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Doctor Who: Time And Relative
Telos hardcover £25
review by Christopher Geary
Spring 1963. The mysterious Doctor and his teenage granddaughter, Susan Foreman, are in London where Susan unhappily attends Coal Hill School. While struggling to cope with boring lessons, playground bullies, fickle classmates, inept or defective teachers, and the typically vague disinterest of her eccentric guardian, Susan comes to realise that by the end of March, there ought to be signs that winter is past. Instead, it steadily grows colder...
Not having read any Doctor Who books before, I was a trifle dubious about this first novella from a new publisher, even though accomplished genre novelist Kim Newman has written it. Thankfully, I'm relieved to report that it's an enjoyable read and certain to meet with your approval, and will probably surpass the expectations of diehard fans. At the heart of this book's appeal is the author's decision to focus on the companion character of Susan, and her personal diary entries - which reveal her daily aggravations, awkward social interactions with humans, and mounting concerns about the weird stuff that keeps happening around her. This format is unusual (the book even comes cased with its own ribbon bookmark like a real diary!), but it enables compression of the narrative into bulletin style chapters, providing shortcuts between varied scenes within the episodic plot without compromising the flow of storytelling.
Newman describes the charm of the period setting very evocatively with plenty of references to popular culture of the era, recapturing the spirit and intent of the original BBC TV series' cosy cosmic adventures. This makes Time And Relative an engaging chronological prequel to the whole Doctor Who saga, while also recognising and respecting the necessity of including modern SF concepts in wholly action-orientated thrills and chills to satisfy today's readership. These are reminiscent of the gory takeover horrors from Quatermass, and the disaster scenario fears of a new Ice Age that dates back at least as far as the Norse myth of Ragnarök, and should delight even the most jaded fan.
What I liked most about this pleasantly witty, yet also suitably grisly, adventure is the way Newman builds suspense and anxiety in the early stages, before the manifestation of the murderously violent Cold Knights. This sense of unease, and the erosion of public calm before the ice storm are well achieved here through subtle indications of wrongness, the importance of which may not be obvious until it's too late, and people start dying.
It's doubtful that I'm giving anything away by revealing that the Doctor's solution to the problem of how to save the threatened world is both pragmatic and humane, in keeping with the TV series' philosophy of non-aggression. What's remarkable about the climax and ending of Time And Relative is the unmistakable poeticism in the way that Newman allows his embattled protagonists to unite and succeed in achieving the desired effect.
The smartly presented book includes a foreword by Justin Richards (a Doctor Who books consultant at the BBC), plus a stunning full colour frontispiece by renowned artist Bryan Talbot.
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