Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: The Secret Vault

(2018) David Solomons, Puffin, £6.99, pbk, 290pp, ISBN 978-1-405-93761-0


This is a story featuring Doctor Who in her newest incarnation, aimed primarily at younger readers aged 7-10.  Sadly, no Daleks or Cybermen, instead the Doctor faces intelligent plants called the Gardeners.  These are ancient creatures that have set up the seed bank for the universe, known as the Vault, storing seeds from every plant that has ever existed.  A group of rebel gardeners are trying to access Vault 13, which holds the Genesis seed that can be used to restart the universe.  The first section of the book concentrates on building this world for the reader, so the action takes a while to get going, but there were plenty of references and in jokes to keep a young Dr Who fan reading.  The story starts with the trio stopping off at Graham’s house to pick up a neglected houseplant that then starts talking.  It passes on a message that sends them off in search of the Gardeners.

With this set up, the Doctor and her companions then have to find the three keys that will open the vault before the rebel gardeners do.  The first key is located in a scary school, the second involves a monster in London, and the third is hidden with the TARDIS itself. Yaz has the job of retrieving the third one, and this provides an opportunity for some development of her character which I enjoyed very much.

Finding the keys isn’t overly challenging and all three are obtained in fairly short order and I felt that perhaps this was a little rushed, but I imagine it will easily hold the attention of a younger reader.  There is just enough SF horror, particularly in the school where graduation means death, to give younger readers the excitement they are looking for without being too much.  Ryan’s dyspraxia gets a mention and brief explanation, which is hugely positive (though as a parent of a dyspraxic child I did not find his characterisation entirely convincing).

I felt that Solomons had really captured Whittaker’s voice and Yorkshire accent, and this came through strongly in the dialogue.  The story is fast-paced and bounces along in a cheery fashion that should keep younger readers engaged.  I also liked the tiny TARDIS illustrations that decorated the pages throughout the book, as did my 11-year-old son.  There are enough Doctor Who references to delight children who are already Doctor Who fans and who have good background knowledge, but enough is explained to make it accessible to children who are new to the series, and for whom Whittaker is their first experience of the Doctor.  It is fast-paced and contains enough references and inside jokes to have something for adults who are looking for a quick read.  The vocabulary level is well suited to a younger reader, making the story accessible, and the chapter illustrations make for a very positive reading experience.  Recommended for all readers regardless of their previous knowledge of Doctor Who.

Jane O'Reilly


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