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Doctor Who Novellas: The Eye of the Tyger

by Paul McAuley

(Telos Publishing, 25.00, 84 pages, signed, numbered, limited edition hardback; also available as standard edition priced £10.00, published 20 November 2003.)

Review by Caleb Woodbridge

Another Doctor Who novella, another very nice edition from Telos Publishing. These books are not only good stories, they look very smart too. I needn't repeat the cliché about judgement, books and their covers, but the swish silver binding with tyger-eye icon embossed on the front and striking colour frontispiece certainly made a good impression on this reviewer, and these deluxe editions also come signed. For sheer collectability, Telos are doing a great job. Pity about the price tag though--even the less flashy "standard editions" are £10, which in terms of pages per penny doesn't compare at all well with the paperback full-length Doctor Who novels. But like many of the novellas, what this story lacks in length it makes up for in sheer pleasurable storytelling.

The story sees the Doctor arriving aboard a colony spaceship in crisis as he seeks to find a cure for Fyne, an English gentleman from early 20th century India, who is infected with a virus that is transforming his body "into a chimera of man and Tyger". I haven't read any of Paul McAuley's previous sf novels -- though one of them is now sitting on my shelf waiting to be read -- but he brings a welcome fresh voice to Doctor Who. The more traditionally space-faring sf staples, such as the generation starship to which the action shifts, make a welcome change to the time-travel and parallel universe type stories that seem to have been very much in fashion in Doctor Who fiction of late.

Shifting between the two unrelated settings, colonial India and a generation starship in the far future, seems rather odd and is perhaps not well suited to the shorter length of the novella. Were it not for the introduction of the character of Fyne, the section in India could basically stand alone. But his narration of the story is one of the book's must charming features, and the story is firmly centred around his transformation. McAuley is largely successful in treading the line between making him a product of his time while not being unlikeably imperialistic in his attitudes, and there's a nice irony in the way his transformation from being human in body leads to him becoming more human in his attitudes, though it is basically put on pause as other elements of the plot kick in. He makes a nice contrast to the Eighth Doctor, who is very much more than the English eccentric that he seems. On the downside, McAuley's take on the Doctor sees him a bit too nice, a little lacking in energy and fire to his personality.

This story is bubbling with different ideas and if anything, the author tries to pack too much in. As well as the Doctor saving Earth from the tyger-virus (told entirely in flashback), and changes both physical and in character in Fyne, there is an almost fairy-tale romance, the civil war aboard the ship, the mystery of the black hole and more. In a story of this length, some elements inevitably lose out, and some vital events are summarised in only a few lines when the narrator hasn't directly experienced them. It's even notably shorter than some of the other Doctor Who novellas, so it would have been good if the story was fleshed out a bit, notably the ending. The explanation given for the massive coincidences (we're even given the odds at one point) seems a bit of a cop-out, and is probably a temporal paradox too, but since I don't want my head twisting into a spiral staircase I won't go down trying to work out the logic of it. The Doctor has visited the location before, albeit in the future, so some of the loose ends seem to be deliberately making room for a sequel/prequel, but this doesn't stop it from being a greatly enjoyable story in its own right.

There are also some nice references to the wider Doctor Who universe, and at least one in-joke reference to another of the author's books. An added bonus to the story itself is the foreword by Neil Gaiman, who is surely a writer who does Doctor Who better than Doctor Who itself. He talks about the weird and wonderful influence of Doctor Who, and I only wish that he might be persuaded to pen a story for the show sometime. Despite being published on the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who, Eye of the Tyger wisely eschews the self-indulgent celebrations and attempts at being "epic" typical of such stories, and instead succeeds in being a stylish and well-told tale.

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