Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: The Good Doctor

(2018) Juno Dawson, BBC Books, £7.99 / Can$16.99 / US$10.99, hrdbk, 230pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94384-3


On the planet of Lobos, the Doctor (the Jodie Whittaker incarnation) halts a violent war between the native Loba and human colonists.  Job done, the TARDIS crew departs – only for Ryan to discover he’s left his phone behind. Again.  Upon returning, the Doctor finds that the TARDIS has slipped hundreds of years into the future – and that something has gone badly wrong. The Loba are now slaves, serving human zealots who worship a godlike figure known as 'The Good Doctor'.  It is time for the Doctor to face up to the consequences of her last visit. With Lobos on the brink of catastrophe, will she be able to make things right?

No-one ever expects the Lobos Inquisition, and no-one ever expects the Doctor’s good work to go so badly wrong, but The Good Doctor starts with the end of an adventure, the end of a civil war that has left whole cities as piles of rubble, killed millions, but now love and common sense have found a way for the start of a bright new future.  Job done, and it’s time to go and as they leave, the Doctor’s companion, Graham, makes a flippant, funny remark no-one thinks twice about, but as soon as they start to wend their way through time and space Ryan realises he has left his phone behind and you don’t want to leave something like that lying around which might influence future events, so it’s time to set the TARDIS to return to Lobos a few minutes after they have left, not get seen by anyone, pick up the phone, and offski, again.  Easy, right? Except a temporal hiccup sends the Doctor and her companies into the future where things feel eerily wrong, and what’s that big, blue structure on the hill that might be a church but looks strangely familiar?

Juno Dawson’s novel is novel for all sorts of reasons.  We rarely return to a world where the Doctor has intervened, and not so soon after the initial adventure, and never – usually - has the Doctor’s intervention had such dire consequences, and all because of some throwaway words and the interpretation of his actions by some religious zealots. His actions? Yes, because in this future society, the indigenous Loba – who are somehow descendants of the first dog launched into space, try not to think too much about that, because it raises too many questions about how this actually worked - are now slaves to their human masters, although women aren’t treated much better than the Loba with various restrictions on their movements and activities, with curfews they have to obey and floating monitoring devices tracking their every movement. Women aren’t important, they almost don’t exist in this future world, so there is no way that 'The Good Doctor' from the past – the deity upon whom a religion has been formed, that is the basis for a totalitarian society – could be a mere woman.  So Graham is the Good Doctor and features on stain glass windows and other religious artefacts, and he has returned to Lobos at the end of times as the planet is wracked by earth tremors, to save the worthy in his blue box.  The Doctor meanwhile is seen as a blasphemer for her words and actions as she is acting above her station as a mere woman.  With some quick thinking by Graham she is demoted to 'The Good Nurse' – which some fans have seen as a reference to the online comments about Jodie Whittaker becoming the first female doctor with many comments being made about 'Nurse Who?'  If the Doctor is the Good Nurse, Ryan is regarded as an angel in the service of a god. Yaz, meanwhile has been caught and arrested and put in prison as she cannot account for herself, and here she meets some Loba who have been arrested for various misdemeanours, but are actually senior members of the rebel movement.  She also meets the mighty and monstrous, Tromos, a Loba who has been chemically enhanced into a super soldier, or super slave, but is now driven mad by the pain he is in.

Can everyone reunite and put things right? Can Graham keep up the pretence of being a God even when he is continually opening his mouth and putting his foot in it? And can the Doctor avoid being burned at the stake, stoned, or worse for being unable not to speak out about all the injustice around her? Dawson has got the companions down pat, and we only ever see the Doctor through their eyes as they observe her tone of voice, expressions, actions and her ability to march all night, although Dawson has also managed to capture the new Doctor’s scatty thought process and dialogue which can go off in any direction, and she is good at juggling multiple plot-lines seen through the eyes of the different companions. The Good Doctor reminded me of part of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Red Dwarf and is an enjoyable fun, fast read over 27 chapters and an epilogue.

Ian Hunter


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