(2022) Rona Munro, Target – BBC Books, £7.99 / Can416.99 / US$10.99 , pbk, 177pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94779-7
"To protect a muddy little hillside, you doomed your whole world!"
The Doctor takes Bill and Nardole back to 2nd century Scotland to learn the fate of the 'lost' Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman Army. 5,000 soldiers vanished without explanation - how?
The search for the truth leads the Doctor and his friends into a deadly mystery. Who is the Guardian of the Gate? What nightmare creature roams the wildlands, darkening the sky and destroying all in its path? A threat from another dimension has been unleashed on the Earth, and only a terrible sacrifice can put things right...
Rona Munro hails from the North-East of Scotland so it was probably inevitable that she would write a Doctor Who story about the missing Ninth Legion of the Roman Army as she grew up with the stories, myths and legends and various theories about what might have happened to it. There have been other novels, and films based on the disappearance of the Ninth Legion, but this is Munro’s version, mashing up history, and legend, involving Pictish tribes, war leaders, battles and images of what is known as the “Pictish beast”. Here, Munro adapts her own script and tells the story using a prologue, and epilogue with three parts in between that are divided into ten chapters. We also get an “author’s note” describing the origin of the story, some historical facts and some inspirations.
Whovians will know that Munro has previous form with the Doctor, in fact, it was her story Survival which ended the Doctor’s original run in 1989, before it was rebooted and resurrected by Russell T. Davies in 2005. In the interim she has been busy writing award-winning scripts for radio, television and the stage before coming back to the fold in 2017, although this is not a straightforward Target version of a Doctor who story where the script is expanded into book form. Munro takes the opportunity to ditch some of the plot, and readers who have watched the TV version will spot differences regarding Missy who appeared at the end of the episode and conversations between characters regarding sexuality and even the TARDIS’ ability to translate Latin and Pictish into English isn’t revealed.
Other key differences are that there is more emphasis on the minor characters who step into the limelight with our three travellers looking on. Munro builds these characters up as she steers the story towards a dramatic and tragic conclusion – no spoilers here as many readers might have seen the original story, and after all, the tale is based on the legend of a missing Roman Legion so expect some heartache. But these are welcome additions to the story, although, possibly at the cost of our three intrepid travellers with only Bill coming out with any credit. Nardole might as well not be there at all, and Munro’s story only seems to highlight the worst aspects of the 12th Doctor’s personality as a grumpy and petulant very old man. As mentioned, this isn’t a strict version of the broadcasted story with Munro freeing herself from the restrictions of a 45-minute episode. Given her pedigree, it is well written and hats off to Anthony Dry for providing us with another old-school Target Books-like cover illustration. Hopefully, Whovians will appreciate the differences Munro has made in translating the screen to the page, even if the three leads aren’t at their best.
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