Doctor Who: Festival of Death
by Jonathon Morris
The Beautiful Death is the ultimate theme-park ride: a sighseeing tour of the afterlife. But something has gone wrong, and when the Fourth Doctor arrives in the aftermath of the disaster, he is congratulated for saving the population from destruction – something he hasn’t actually done yet. He has no choice but to travel back in time and discover how he became a hero.
And then he finds out. He did it by sacrificing his life.
I usually write my own description of the novels I review, but the back of the book captured the plot so well – which, oddly enough, is a relative rarity. Between the back of the book and the opening line of the novel, I knew I was in for a great ride. That opening line?
“For the rest of his life he would remember it as the day he died.”
And, yes, Morris has crafted a really neat story that almost reads like a Doctor Who serial in reverse. The first portion of the book reads like the last episode, wrapping up all the loose ends after the climax has been settled. Then the next chapter feels like the opening introductions to all the characters before the Doctor arrives, just as would often happen in Classic Doctor Who. The plot never lags, and the scenes pass by so very quickly – almost more like a teleplay than a novel. For this kind of story, though, it worked well.
Now, media tie-ins are interesting creatures. They’re clearly intended for an audience that already knows and loves the source material, but they walk a very fine line. How much knowledge can you assume in the reader?
A few years ago I read a Star Trek novel. It was the first in the Star Trek: Titan series, focusing on Captain Riker and his ship after the last Star Trek: The Next Generation movie. I was looking forward to something fun and a bunch of new characters. Alas, it wasn’t to be: the writer assumed a lot of knowledge not only about the show, but also assumed that any potential reader had been keeping up with numerous other novels as well. Characters I’d never heard of walked on and off-screen, he assumed that I knew what different alien races were, and just a lot of things went unexplained. Perhaps if I’d kept up with Star Trek novels I’d have known everything, but I didn’t.
I feared something similar might happen here; while I love the Tom Baker Doctor, I certainly don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of his tv adventures, much less his novel adventures.
I needn’t have feared. Morris assumes base-level knowledge of the show: The Doctor travels around time and space in his TARDIS. Romana and K-9 serve as the companions. I think the only previous knowledge necessary there is that K-9 is a robotic dog. Beyond that, all the other characters are original to the novel. Even if you’ve never watched this particular Doctor, I imagine you’d do fine reading this novel.
Morris does a fantastic job capturing the voices of the actors. As the Doctor talked, I heard all the inflections. Since I started reading the novel, I’ve been hankering for some Classic Doctor Who.
The feel of the other characters all fit a Classic Doctor Who story as well. We’ve got wild imagination revolving around well-formed characters and a tight, intriguing plot.
Of course, you know the Doctor doesn’t die. That’s not how he regenerates, and with the Twelfth Doctor recently announced, you know this novel isn’t the end of his adventures. But, with media tie-ins, it’s never about the “change a character forever” stories. It’s about good stories, and Morris has given us a great one. From the concept of the Beautiful Death (a sighseeing tour of the afterlife? Delicious!) to a city stranded in hyperspace to the inventive monsters and a suicidal environmental computer, Morris has so many ideas the book is practically bursting with them.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’ll do yourself a favor reading this book. I highly recommend it!