art of

Creation and destruction are just two sides of the same coin.

“The darkness plays tricks on you, down here.”

The modern Doctor Who books have become so hit and miss for me lately that when I approach one, I now do so with the caution of a bomb disposal squad. In particular, I wondered about this one as it features Rose who, at the time, I loved, but she has sort of faded for me since characters like Donna and Amy who I found more interesting and engaging. Nonetheless, I pushed on and found a genuinely good story.

The action takes place in Chad, Africa in the year 2118. Africa (there’s a lot of generalisation about the continent within the novel, and very little mention of the fact that there are actually 50-ish countries there) still seems to be poor and much of the land that was before seen as unusable has now undergone tests to grow food for the starving millions around the world. While there have been some successes, and genetic manipulation has come a long way, there are still troubles. A team is now working beneath an active volcano, trying to grow edible fungi.

The Doctor and Rose drop in having picked up on some alien activity, and it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Humans and assorted wildlife are being consumed by apparently living gold and turning into statues that seem determined to protect the caves beneath the volcano. Add to that an alien antiques expert, the beautiful but hidden haul of a race of artists and the incoming threat of more aliens with a score to settle, and things are about to get really messy.

Stephen Cole also wrote the Ninth Doctor novel The Monsters Inside which I read a few years ago and really enjoyed. He is one of the better writers for Doctor Who novels, unlike others. The Doctor seems far more like himself here, as if Cole has got a better grip on a character. It’s also nice to see Rose back again, despite her no longer being my favourite companion. The novel plays up the idea that Rose is the one person that the Doctor fell in love with, for whatever reason, and it isn’t a worse novel for it. The aliens are interesting, the whole concept is smart and original, but it does fall down with, as mentioned above, its continual obsession with the idea that Africa is a country rather than a continent. Also, simply because of the difference in medium, the aliens within will never be as clear or as terrifying as those on the television. Still, there are some funny gags, a lot of action and it feels like it could have been an episode in season two quite easily.

My faith in the Who books is redeemed. For now.