Fiction Reviews

Thirteen Doctors: 13 Stories

(2019) Various, BBC Books, pbk, £12.99 / Can$26.95 / US$17.95, 598pp, ISBN 978-0-241-35617-3


This is a big book both in the size of its pages and the number of them; the weight is heavy and it is not a comfy book for a bedtime read. However, the print is large and the pages turned quickly. The book contains thirteen stories, one for each Doctor so far, and each is written by a different writer. The first eleven stories were originally published as e-Books in 2013 then later that year they appeared in print as the anthology 11 Doctors: 11 Stories. The following year the collection was extended and reprinted as 12 Doctors: 12 Stories. As we now have another Doctor…

We open with ‘The First Doctor: A Big Hand For The Doctor’ by Eoin Colfer. It is 1900 and the Doctor and Susan are in London on the trail of Soul Pirates, a nasty bunch of aliens that beam children up to their space ship where they either drain them of their energies or dissect them for their body parts. Whilst in London, the Doctor visits Aldridge, a Xing surgeon from Gallifrey, for an important operation as an alternative to regeneration. I thought the story to be nothing special and, apart from the use of the words ‘Grandfather’ and ‘Susan’, had no particular feel of William Hartnell’s Doctor. His was a thinking Doctor, an explorer, whereas this was more of an action Doctor and did not feel right. Interestingly, in this story, mostly for humorous effect, the Doctor has the ability so see something of his future selves. This is something I understood Time Lords could not do as it violated their timelines; they can remember meeting previous incarnations of themselves but on meeting a future incarnation are incapable of remembering it.

Moving on to Michael Scott’s ‘The Second Doctor: The Nameless City’ we again find the Doctor in London; this time it is 1968 and he is accompanied by Jamie McCrimmon. Whilst out shopping for parts for the TARDIS, Jamie rescues a book dealer from a thief little realising it is a set-up so that Professor Thascalos (another Time Lord) can give him a ‘thank you’ gift - a harmless-looking book. Returning to the TARDIS Jamie passes the book on to the Doctor who finds to his horror that it is the Necronomicon and his mere touch is enough to activate it. Moments later it takes control of the TARDIS, taking them far from the Milky Way to the lonely planet where the last few remaining Archons plan to use the TARDIS to go back in time, save their race, and have history run a very different course. I found this story more enjoyable and recaptured both Patrick Troughton’s quirky Doctor and Jamie.

Once more set in London, this time in 1973, ‘The Third Doctor: The Spear of Destiny’ by Marcus Sedgwick sees the Doctor with Jo Grant. They visit a museum to inspect Gungnir, a Viking spear found by archaeologists, but it proves to be more than a normal spear. The Doctor’s suspicions prove to be correct, it is the Spear of Destiny - a PTN (Physical Temporal Nexus), one of the very few relics that are so old and so powerful that even the Time Lords do not know from where they originate but they have a fear of them. Travelling back to the Swedish town Gamla Uppsala in 141AD, the Doctor and Jo find that his nemesis the Master is fomenting tribal war between the Aesir, led by Odin, and the Vanir, led by Njord. This felt like Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, a nice mixture of thinking and action.

Philip Reeve’s story ‘The Fourth Doctor: The Roots of Evil’ finds the Doctor and Leela visiting a Heligan Structure, a vast tree suspended above the planet below. These special trees were developed as a mechanism for terraforming planets by, amongst other methods, absorbing the carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. This one, though, has become vast; it supports a tribe of humans who prove to be the decedents of a terraforming crew. They have met the Doctor before although it is still in his future. The nature of Tom Baker’s fun-loving Doctor came across nicely.

With ‘The Fifth Doctor: Tip of the Tongue’ Patrick Ness sets his story in Maine; it is 1945 and the war has yet to end. The Doctor and Nyssa witness Johnny buying a Truth Teller from his school friend Nettie. Strapped to your chin, these sad little creatures tell the truths that are on your mind but which you would not normally say, such as ‘your posterior is demonstrably too wide for that dress’. ‘As this is the truth, nobody should get upset’ goes the argument but, of course, everyone goes round being upset all the time. It is not the fault of the creatures, they are but slaves of the Dipthodat, a race that feeds off negative energy. Peter Davidson’s caring Doctor also came across nicely.

Richelle Mead tells ‘The Sixth Doctor: Something Borrowed’ in the first person of Peri Brown. Arriving on the home world of the Korurians, some couple of hundred years in our future, Peri finds it modelled on the Las Vegas of her college days. It is also under daily attack from small pterodactyl-like creatures which are not of the planet. Having been invited to his son’s wedding, they hasten to the home of the Doctor’s friend Lord Evris Makshi, little realising that the bride-to-be will prove to be a Time Lady - the Rani! It properly conveyed Colin Baker’s blustering and dismissive Doctor.

‘The Seventh Doctor: The Ripple Effect’ by Malorie Blackman finds the Doctor and Ace stuck in a Temporal Plexus. Escaping, they find themselves in a universe where the Daleks are kind and benevolent, that Skaro has become the Ancient Greece of the future and a centre of learning for all races. How did this happen and will it last? Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor was more subtle than some but his thinking Doctor came across quite reasonably.

Setting his story in Fort Casey, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town in the Nevada desert of the latter half of the twentieth century, Alex Scarrow’s ‘The Eight Doctor: Spore’ sees the Doctor defending the Earth from another alien incursion. In this case an ancient seeding probe has crashed and the spore it contains is rapidly digesting all living matter and reproducing at a prodigious rate. I particularly enjoyed this story. As Paul McGann had only the one proper outing on TV I never really got to know his Doctor yet I thought this story has captured him: a gentle, thinking Doctor using his knowledge and experience.

Charlie Higson opens ‘The Ninth Doctor: The Beast of Babylon’ on the planet of Karkinos, just as Ali and her family are enjoying a picnic, a picnic which is interrupted when the Doctor arrives from nowhere. A quick battle later and the Doctor has defeated a Starman - but there is a worse one about to attack the Earth. Wheedling her way into the TARDIS, Ali fulfils her wish to see more of the universe, in particular ancient Babylon. Christopher Eccleston’s running-around Doctor came across brilliantly.

With ‘The Tenth Doctor: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage’ Derek Landy takes us to a planet which ought not to exist. When Martha Jones leads the Doctor out of the TARDIS they find they are in the world of a book she read in her childhood - but why? And how will they escape? This is another running-about story and it caught the character of David Tennant’s Doctor.

Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Eleventh Doctor: Nothing O’Clock’ sees the Doctor taking Amy Pond on a visit home only to discover that the world is empty of people, the only occupants being the Kin. Due to the demise of the Time Lords, the Kin have escaped their imprisonment, arrived on Earth, and driven the population into extinction. The Doctor will have to do some clever timey-wimey stuff if he is to save the human race. There was no feel at all of Matt Smith’s Doctor other than several mentions of his bow tie. Sometimes I find Gaiman’s writing excellent but this is one of his damp squibs; the story is interesting but the characterisation is missing.

The Intergalactic Coffee Roasting Station is the setting for ‘The Twelfth Doctor: Lights Out’ by Holly Black and it is told in the first person by 78351, a pilot on the regular run to the Planet Of The Coffee Shops. The Doctor has dropped in to get a coffee for Clara (why else?) only to find there is a problem with the lighting; every time they flicker out someone dies. Having been saved by the Doctor before, 78351 is eager to help him. Peter Capaldi’s talkative Doctor was right there.

Finally ‘The Thirteenth Doctor: Time Lapse’ by Naomi Alderman finds a letter suddenly appearing in the TARDIS whilst in flight - ‘I’m the only one who remembers 2004’. Thinking about it, neither the Doctor nor her companions Graham, Ryan, and Yaz, can remember it either. They head to the British Museum in 2019 to investigate and find many time anomalies. Jodie Whittaker’s goby, wittering Doctor was right there, but her companions could have been anyone!The problem with any book of short stories is going to be to try to find it full of good stories and here most were indeed interesting.  In this case though, where they have the same main character but each in a different incarnation, there is the additional and considerable problem of getting the correct feel of each Doctor in his/her story. Similarly, each companion must be portrayed as their respective individual characters. This would be no mean feat for any author but in this book each Doctor is covered by a different author and each has to find his/her own way of capturing the essence of their chosen Doctor. Most of them succeeded but a few were lacking, and I thought many of the companions were mere shadows.

All told, this an interesting collection: not outstanding (I have read some better) but it was worth the read.

Peter Tyers


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