Thursday, January 23, 2014

Doctor Who: Touched By An Angel - A Book Review

In 2003, Rebecca Whitaker died in a traffic accident.  Eight years later, her husband Mark is still grieving and unable to move on with his life.  Then one day he receives a battered old envelope.  An envelope that is addressed to him in his own handwriting!

He has a chance encounter with The Doctor and The Ponds before he has the chance to open it.  The Doctor says that Mark has somehow gained the attention of something called a Weeping Angel.  This means little to Mark until he is touched by a scary statue and suddenly finds himself back in 1994.  It is here that Mark opens the envelope and finds several thousand pounds in cash as well as a numbered list - also in his own handwriting - of things he must be sure to do over the next decade. 

Once he's tracked Mark down again, The Doctor begrudgingly agrees to let Mark remain in the past since the consequences of him not following the instructions on the list could be even more dangerous than not returning Mark to 2003.  But what the The Doctor doesn't know - because the list told Mark not to show it to anyone else - is that the instructions from Mark's future self ended with a simple message.

"You can save her.   Just as I did."

I greatly enjoyed Johnathan Morris' Festival of Death so I thought I might give one of his other Doctor Who novels a try.  I'm glad I did, because Touched By An Angel is easily the equal of Festival of Death in quality.  Indeed, in some respects it is even better thanks to three elements - the clever use of The Weeping Angels, the humor and the wonderful supporting cast.

Morris introduces a new wrinkle to The Weeping Angels with this story - the idea that there are different species of Angel that feed on different sorts of energies.  In this case, the Weeping Angels in this story grow stronger by absorbing the energy generated by paradoxes.  This adds a whole new wrinkle to the usual Weeping Angels story, as The Doctor and The Ponds have to not only avoid turning their backs on The Angels but also in preventing Mark from accidentally altering his own time line and "ringing the dinner gong".

One of the aspects I enjoy most about Morris' writing is his use of humor.  In Festival of Death, he did a fair job of aping the style and cadence of Douglas Adams.  There is very little of that in Touched By An Angel but there are still some funny farcical moments.  The best of these involves an increasingly annoyed Doctor finding himself accidentally interfering with Mark and Rebecca's wedding day while trying to avert a paradox yet slowly digging himself in deeper the more he tries not to get involved. 

What really sells this story, however, is the wonderful supporting cast.  We see all of Rebecca and Mark's relationship play out over the years and Morris does a great job in making us care about them as people.  Indeed, the reader will sympathize with Mark's dilemma and the increasingly destructive actions he takes as he gets closer to his chance to save the woman he loves, in spite of the damage he might cause.  As Rory notes at one point, he'd be doing the exact same thing if he were in Mark's place.

If this novel has a weak spot, it is that Amy - like in many of the Series Six stories - has very little to do.  There's little sign of the Scottish spitfire we're used to, apart from Amy's scorning The Doctor's suggestion that she should do what her husband says when Rory pleads caution.  Still, Rory is in fine form, kvetching as he winds up spending a good deal of the story waiting on Amy and The Doctor (as usual) and you'll likely hear Matt Smith's voice as you read The Doctor's dialogue.

Bottom Line: If you like good Doctor Who stories, you'll love Touched By An Angel

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