Years ago, I used to be a huge Doctor Who novel reader; namely, of the then-current Eighth Doctor range of novels. I never read the Past Doctor Adventures, featuring Doctors 1 through 7. I wanted forward-looking, “current” adventures where the characters could grow and things could really change, as opposed to everything needing to be set back to the status quo by the end of the novel. I held this attitude until I read Simon Guerrier’s excellent The Time Travellers, a novel featuring the original TARDIS team of the first Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara. I can’t remember too well what had made me pick up the novel; it had gotten good reviews and I had interacted with Simon online through the forums and his blog. I gave it a chance and I was very glad that I did.
Fast forward a few years. With the advent (and success) of the new television series, any novels not featuring the current Doctor have been shelved, and I understand the reasoning. The old books sold in the 5,000 range (for example), and the new novels sell in the 25,000+ range. Why spend money and effort on a book that will receive only 20% of sales when you can spend it on a sure thing? (I can’t take credit for that analogy; I read it on one of the forums, and something tells me that it was author James Swallow who wrote it, but I could be totally wrong) I get that, but the new series novels don’t, for the most part, appeal to me. They are written for a younger audience, and many of the criticisms I’ve read online are that they are “dumbed down” compared to the old BBC Who novels. This initially made me cautious about the range in general. Since then, however, I have purchased, read, and enjoyed several of the New Series Adventures.
And since my stance has softened on “media tie-in fiction” that slots stories between episodes, and figured, I should really just enjoy the storytelling, I obtained a few old Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures.
So, Heat of TARDIS was up first. The choice is obvious; a novel featuring the Second and Fourth Doctors? Could it have been any more stamped with win? My only caveat was that Dave Stone wrote it; I say that having read only one other Dave Stone novel, the Eighth Doctor novel The Slow Empire, which was slow reading (haha, see what I did there? Boooo…). I’ve read summaries of Stone’s other novels, and I’ve always liked the ideas he brought to the table. The problem has been his habit of being a thesaurus abuser; seriously, Dave Stone injects words into his prose that no real person ever uses. A lot. It almost became a game with my wife, where I would just call out the word to see if she knew it. It doesn’t make him seem smarter; it comes across as superfluous.
I did, however, greatly enjoy Heart of TARDIS (despite the mixed reviews it received). It’s just a flat-out fun story. The Second Doctor tale starts out as a creepy mystery, where they land in a Midwestern American town, where, of course, Things Have Gone WrongTM. Even worse, they have become locked out of the TARDIS, and as things begin to spiral out of control, they are left with dangerously few options.
The Fourth Doctor story, taking place during the Key to Time season, has the Time Lords assigning the Doctor a mission of vital importance… or, rather, it would be, if the Doctor hadn’t received an emergency call for help, apparently from the Brigadier. So, naturally, he blows off the Time Lords and said critical emergency to help an old friend. Naturally, both story threads eventually converge, though not in a way you expect.
The characters sound spot-on here. The notoriously difficult-to-capture Second Doctor comes across as authentic, as do the rest of the regulars. The plot is fairly paper-thin; the running around and solving problems drags on a bit (this is mostly in the case of the Fourth Doctor story thread; the Second Doctor’s tale has enough atmosphere to keep things interesting throughout). The novel is humorous (though never laugh-out-loud), and at times self-indulgent (Simpsons cameo, I’m looking right at you). But this is typical Dave Stone; if you go into the novel knowing that, you should be fine. It’s certainly better than The Slow Empire. Which may or may not be saying a lot.
Overall, it’s a fun Doctor Who, and worth a read.