Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: Plague City

(2017) Jonathan Morris, BBC Books, £6.99 / Can$15.99 / US$ 11.99, hrdbk, 250pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94270-9


It is 1645 and Edinburgh is in the grip of the worst plague ever. Nobody knows who will be the next to succumb – nobody except the Night Doctor, a masked figure that stalks the streets, seeking out those that will not live to see another day. But death is not the end. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole discover that the living are being haunted by the recently departed – by ghosts who do not know that they are dead. And there are other creatures in the shadows…

Right place, wrong time. How many times has that been said at the start of a Doctor Who adventure, either on the TV series or in one of the many book adventures over the years?  Bill Potts fancies a trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, when the city is buzzing with all sorts of wild and crazy...stuff! (I use that highly technical term as a former Fringe reviewer of many years for Radio Forth, the local radio station) and the Doctor is only too happy to oblige but he gets his settings wrong and he and Bill and Nardole end up in Edinburgh in the year 1645 when plague is ripping the Old Town apart, and a curfew has been imposed and is strictly imposed. Woe to you if you are caught walking the streets at night, even worse if you should come across the mysterious, sinister, and quite creepy, Night Doctor, who visits the dying in his strange garb, and when the victims die they come back to haunt the cobble-streets and the living as ghosts, although they don’t seem to realise that they are dead.

Plague City is so good it could easily have been shown as a TV adventure or appeared as an audio story. My only quibbler as a Scot, and one who was born in Edinburgh, is the dialogue of the Scottish characters, which some people have commented in reviews as being difficult to get their heads or tongues around, but it is so grating in places it did make me wince at times, but hats off to Morris for evoking the mankiness of the Old Town, after all, that was one of the reasons why the posher New Town was built.

As well written as this story is, I have always had a problem with spin-off books from any major series because of the lack of jeopardy for any of the major characters, so to work there needs to be a good story with an interesting cast of characters that the reader actually cares about, who will have an effect on the major characters. Morris has managed to nail all three of these requirements with a convincing mystery that echoes way, way back into the past and comes bang up to date to connect with one of Edinburgh’s most famous tourist attractions, and dare I say there are even some Lovecraftian overtones, or make that undertones. Morris has considerable form as a Who writer, having written hunners (another technical term here) of stories involving the Doctor, companions or spin-off characters over the years in the form of books, comic strips and audio adventures so we are in very safe hands.

Plague City is one of three Doctor books which came out at the same time to feature the Twelfth Doctor, and Bill - the other two being The Shining Man by Cavan Scott, and Diamond Dogs by Mike Tucker, but this one has the added bonus of featuring Nardole, who steals the show with his attitude and one-liners. Maybe he could appear at the Fringe some time, doing some withering stand-up about those infuriating humans, and even more infuriating Time Lords?

Ian Hunter

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