28 March 2014

BOOK: Something Borrowed

One of the best things about Doctor Who is its ability to encompass so much variety within its remit whilst still feeling consistent. This is certainly an aspect that runs through this series of short stories, not least due to the range of writers. This time, it's Richelle Mead (not Michelle Read, as I keep thinking) in the hot seat and she takes on the daunting reigns of Series 22. Her portrayals of both the Doctor and Peri both felt in keeping with their television counterparts, without ever being too knowing or predictable (not an accusation that's often levelled at the Sixth Doctor, I grant you). Mead also brings back a foe first featured during Baker's time, so if you prefer to avoid spoilers, probably don't read much further. However, if after nine months you don't know the villain's identity, you're doing pretty well.

Mead tells her story in quite an irregular fashion, by writing in the first person - with that person being Peri. I was under the impression that these were aimed at younger readers, to try and entice them into the classic series (whilst still providing a kick of nostalgia for the diehards). When the narrator isn't even named until the tenth page, new audiences may be left on the back foot a little. The whole introduction is a bit odd. The Doctor and Peri have arrived on a planet two centuries from now modelled on '80s Vegas, where prehistoric monsters are attacking the populus (but only natives). This should be a punchy start, with action to draw the readers in. Instead, it's very expositionary and the Doctor stands around witnessing the horror without actually intervening for a few minutes. And then it transpires that they key to it all is breaking some transmitter on the top of the building that the pair are conveniently standing by. So, Peri has to scale the outer two floors and damage it, because the Doctor is too large for the ledges. This yielded two problems for me: were the stairs out of action?; and why didn't he just do that straight away then? There's no evidence given of him having just thought of it.

After this wobbly start, things really pick up. The Doctor has come to the planet for the wedding of his friend's son. It's a pleasingly valid excuse, rather than a distress call or dangerous tech detected. Evris - the Doctor's friend and father to Jonos - is a good character too, but we don't spend all that much time with him because Peri's soon taken off to be dressed into something more appropriate - a nice dig at Bryant's costume. She and Wira, a servant in Evris' mansion, are on their way to change her attire when Lania - Jonos' alien bride - passes them. She immediately recognises Peri, and orders her lizard-like thugs to take them down to her basement, which it turns out is actually a laboratory for experimentation on people. If you haven't worked out who it is by now, I'm sorry, but there's no-one else it could be but the Rani. It's soon revealed why she seems to be acting out of character, don't worry the cold hard Rani is very much present in this. 

Koturians have an ability known as Phasing. It means why they are in the presence of an Imori rock and a loving partner, they can change their form. The process is similar to regeneration, but they have a degree of control over the outcome. This is why the Rani's interested. She wants to be able to discover the solution to enable Time Lords to control their regenerations, earning a characteristic retort from the Doctor that he's done very well out of it. He soon foils the Rani's plan, at the altar naturally, and she vows revenge on him. In a nice twist of retconning, she warns him that his next regeneration might be sooner than he thinks. This tries to add some much needed coherence to Time and the Rani, whilst also being true in reality as well, given Colin Baker's hasty dismissal. She of course makes a hasty exit into a nearby column - her TARDIS.

This is a pretty enjoyable story once it gets going, and Mead treats all her characters well. I think her biggest triumph from this story was writing it Peri's perspective though. It's something that could only really be done in a short story, but works very well here. There's a hint of irony about this setup as well, because it highlights how small a part she had in terms of characterisation on television. There's lovely touches like her not wanting to play Twenty Questions with the Doctor just to get any information out of him, a witty commentary on Ms Brown's role. As we get inside her thoughts, we see much more of an American than usual. Often, this background was limited to an accent alone, but here there are cultural references and comparisons made that you wouldn't get from any of the Doctor's other companions.

The most enjoyable thing about this story though is that there's a proper plot behind it. With some of the others, as enjoyable as they were, they existed because. This, though, has a clear narrative strain with the Rani's research interests being brought to the fore to separate her from just being a female Master. She has an objective, and no regard or respect for those who might stand in her way. To her, everyone and everything is just a means to an end. Mead wrote the Time Lady expertly, with her snide comments and put-downs. She's far much more rounded here than in Time, but with all the traits from The Mark of the Rani. I liked the Doctor and Peri's journey through the Rani's setup and the fact they had to break into a run feels much more realistic than just arriving somewhere, so I'm thankful for the inclusion of that sequence.

This is a really enjoyable read, and puts the Doctor, Peri and the Rani in authentic frame. Koturia feels so '80s it hurts, right down to the fact that the Vicar is Elvis. The rather pathetic lizard-men are typical of the era, and there's a good pace to the piece. Excluding the first chapter, this is a beautifully written story and I recommend it whole heartedly. Something Borrowed isn't the best in the series, but nor is it the worst. It works well by itself and as part of this series, but may alienate new readers a little. This is definitely an above-average story, and Richelle Mead is to be commended even if she doesn't know how many times the Sixth Doctor encountered the Rani after watching his entire. That's another point. Although she's only seen the '84 to '86 series once, Mead captures the protagonists' voices with uncanny ease. A great writer and a really good way of celebrating the anniversary.

In a Nutshell: A really likeable read which uses the Rani respectfully.

You can buy Something Borrowed as an eBook here, or as part of the 11 Doctors, 11 Stories collection here.

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