While cruising around feedbooks.com looking for free poetry, classic horror, and tales of Oscar Wilde (with the intent of making my reading selections more distinguished and refined—because hey! I have class! Or something…) I stumbled upon a couple of perhaps-not-quite-so-classy-but-oodles-of-fun gems: no-cost Doctor Who tales. There were a handful of them available for free, but the two I grabbed had a particular draw; they were authored by fellows whose names I recognise from the writing credits for the show.
Furthermore, one of the two books is titled Human Nature*, which happens to be the first half of one of my favourite two-parters in the series.
I read Nightshade first, penned by Mark Gatiss, who wrote the episodes “The Unquiet Dead” (in which we first learn about the rift in Cardiff), “The Idiot’s Lantern” (in which televisions steal people’s faces; also the episode that inspired me and Mr. B to wail HUUUUUNGGRYYYY whenever we find ourselves feeling peckish), and “Victory of the Daleks” (in which 11 holds the new Dalek forces at bay with a jam-cookie). He also played the part of Professor Lazarus in “The Lazarus Experiment” (in which the fountain of youth machine yields unpleasant side-effects).
Nightshade was a difficult book for me to read. The first several chapters are about being introduced to new characters and then being taken on a trip down their memory lane, only to be brought back to the present day (in this case, the present day is the 23rd of December, 1968) and start the process over with a new character. While it becomes obvious why this emphasis on the character’s pasts exist later on, I found it somewhat tedious in the beginning. The eeriness and overall mystery of the situation kept me ploughing through, however, and I’m glad that I stuck through it.
It could be confusing at times, dealing with a companion I’m not familiar with (Ace) and therefore not being certain which incarnation of the Doctor I’m supposed to be imagining; I suppose that just means I need to get caught up on what old Doctor Who serials I can find on Netflix (see this arm? Made of rubber). **
All told, the mood and the characters kept me going through the story, even when I was frustrated that some person or another needed to go back to whatever place they just left yet again. There was a lot of travelling back and forth between two locations that could somehow have been streamlined. I’ve noticed this in a lot of television programs as well. Come to think of it, the first Doctor Who serial I watched—The Aztecs—suffered from this same issue. I shrugged it off as writers struggling to bridge the gap between radio scripts and television ones, but perhaps this was a hallmark of the shows early days?
I enjoyed Nightshade well enough to want to write about it, although I don’t seem to be doing a very good job at writing much that’s positive about it. Shame on me. It has atmosphere, an interesting villain with an eerie modus operandi, and engaging characters. I struggled through the first bit of the book, but once I crested the sixth chapter, any thoughts of giving up on the book fled my mind.
Now I’m going on to read the second of the books I downloaded. I’ll write something up about that one when I’ve finished it.
* That’s right, Human Nature. Written in 1992. About Dr. John Smith teaching history in a boy’s school with WW1 on the doorstep. I couldn’t resist.
**A quick trip to Wikipedia informed me that the Doctor in question here is 7. It looks like I have a long way to go before I get to meet him in the Netflix queue.