Doctor Who spent much of its TV life in a state of affectionate self-parody, and despite such sustained self-indulgence was none the worse for this. Indeed, the knowing nature of what became one of the grandest British TV institutions is probably a key factor in its longevity -- and in the notable way it lives on in the hearts of its legion fans.
On the other hand, the books, or at least the earlier ones (and how I loved them as a boy -- Terrence Dicks, my hero!), tended to take themselves a lot more seriously. This poses an interesting question for Telos's new Doctor Who novella line (launched with Kim Newman's Time and Relative which, sadly, I have yet to see): straight or knowing? Thankfully, Tom Arden chose the latter and his warmly nostalgic chunk of high jinks reads like mid-period Doctor Who (Tom Baker, perhaps), although it's written for the earlier, straighter, Jon Pertwee incarnation.
On the night of her wedding, Ria wanders through a castle on a long ago moon, finding her childhood nursery still containing all her favourite playthings. Discovered by her fiancé -- was he following her on this, the day before their wedding? -- she has to keep her wits about her: she mustn't reveal that she hates him...
Meanwhile, Jo Grant and the Doctor have encountered problems during a routine jump to Metebelis III. The TARDIS, it seems, is being drawn towards this strange, forested moon.
What does the Nightdreamer King have to do with all this? Why does gravity misbehave on this moon? And what of the aptly-named Sly, and the group of amateur actors out practising in the woods?
Yes, like any good Doctor Who story, the plot is at times over-convoluted and hard to follow, just as it also struggles to stand up to scrutiny: if the bad guy/creature can satisfy its needs from the source it ultimately does, then why bother with any other means? There must be suitable sources of energy throughout the universe...
Arden's version of the Time Lord is just a bit too easy:
"He called on all the mental powers of a Time Lord. Crackling energies slashed through the vines, and his bonds fell away."
With powers like this the reader need never fear for the Doctor -- if ever the going gets too tough he just has to think hard enough...
Despite Nightdreamers' occasional flaws, Tom Arden captures the pantomime noir of Doctor Who to a T. Fans won't be disappointed. I had, perhaps misguidedly, hoped for a little more, though. The introduction of authors like Arden, not previously known for his association with Doctor Who, had promised, or at least hinted at, the possibility of something a bit different, something a bit richer than the well-crafted sharecrop that this, ultimately, is.
Review by Nick Gifford.
Further information about Telos books, including the Doctor Who novellas line, is available on the web at: www.telos.co.uk
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© Nick Gifford 15 June 2002