pirate loop“Six thousand robots danced through the streets of Milky-Pink City.”

Although I have mixed feelings about the genre of science fiction, I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Doctor Who. That’s probably because, as has been said before, it’s far more of a fairy story than a science fiction tale. There are many people happy to criticise the series for whatever reason, but there are many more who are willing to give it their all and prove that they love it. The 50th anniversary episode (and the fact that it is the first science fiction show to achieve a 50th anniversary) just went to show how much people care about the series and how invested people are in it. It is part of our culture – everyone, in Britain at least, knows what the TARDIS is, what Daleks are, and can probably name at least one of the Doctors.

I’ve read a couple of the books before, and embarked on this one, The Pirate Loop, with a hint of excitement, as it features the Tenth Doctor – a fabulous creation from David Tennant – and Martha Jones, a companion who seems to get a lot of flack from the fandom, for reasons I still don’t fully understand. As she only had one full season with the Doctor, it’s nice to get a few more of her adventures fleshed out. This one takes us to the fortieth century, a time where space piracy is all the rage, and there’s a war brewing somewhere in the galaxy.

The Starship Brilliant disappeared from history one day and no one, not even the Doctor, knows what happened to it. Theories range from suggesting it was destroyed in the first shots of the war, to the idea that it dropped into a black hole. Martha convinces a cagey Doctor to visit the starship and find out what exactly happened and why it vanished. The pair get more than they expect, however, when they stumble upon a cocktail party full of oval, tentacled aliens, a strange substance that looks like scrambled egg, and pirates with the faces of Earth badgers. As it turns out, the ship is being invaded, but, in typical Doctor Who fashion, time is a bit wibbly-wobbly, and things don’t make much sense. And then Martha gets shot, and it goes from bad to worse.

I’ve probably rattled on before about the difficulty in telling stories in different mediums (if I haven’t, then pretend I have – I’ve written over seventy of these now, I can’t remember everything!) but it’s quite pronounced here. Obviously, this adventure was never an episode of the series, but the characters are the same. However, with a novel you don’t get the immediacy of appearance, body language, gesture and tone. These things are explained out – they have to be – and that can slow things down. It sometimes feels like Guerrier is trying too hard to make the Doctor “the Doctor”. Ditto Martha.

It’s a great story, with typically Whovian technical gobbledegook that makes sense in context of the plot. It gives the Doctor a difficult decision, and it, like the best Doctor Who stories, blurs the lines between who is good and who is evil (for a comparable episode of the series, A Town Called Mercy is a good example of that theme). The resolution seems quick and a little sloppy – another one of those ones where the Doctor does something offscreen and it somehow fixes everything.

I think the books do well and remain interesting because they spend far more time with alien races and on alien planets than the show does, thanks to a lack of budgetry concerns. For that reason, I still like it, and it’s nice to see the Tenth Doctor and Martha again, but I’ve read better Doctor Who novels.