The Doctor Who novel range is a bit like the Time Lord himself: just when you’re comfortable with what you’ve got, the whole thing ups and changes and along comes a new version.
Following on from the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, the Eighth Doctor BBC novels and a raft of variations on the theme, the latest iteration sees two shorter novels jammed together into what the front cover explains are “Two New Adventures – One Book”.
Long-term Who scribe Justin Richards is up first (or second, depending on which way round you hold the book) with Death Riders, a 197-page tale which takes the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and new hubby, Rory, to the Galactic Fair on the asteroid of Stanalan, just as its residents are meeting grizzly ends deep under the surface.
Next up is Trevor Baxendale’s Heart of Stone, in which the intrepid trio arrive in the middle of a pigsty on an English farm. Discovering lumps of moon rock and scenes of damage nearby, the Doctor begins investigating and uncovers a giant…well, that would be telling.
With their younger audiences in mind at all times, Richards and Baxendale cut back on the descriptive prose and scene setting to ensure events move at a fair old lick. Richards builds up his mystery with plenty of action taking place off-screen, while Baxendale puts his characters in various perilous situations as events escalate.
Of the two authors, Baxendale captures the innate Second Doctor-ness of Smith’s incarnation best, while Amy gets a few of the one-liners so common in the TV version in both books. Elsewhere, there’s a sense that Rory is too often surplus to requirement while other characters are given short-shrift thanks to the lower word counts and need to push on with the action.
Though each story has the desired beginning, middle and end, it’s hard not to feel shortchanged by the format. Younger readers may appreciate the book’s bitesize nature, but when each one is devoid of the depth or scope that a single, larger, novel might provide, it all seems rather pointless.