25 March 2015

NSA: The Monsters Inside

You may remember 2005. You may not. There's one thing in particular that I remember from that year. Can you guess what it is? No, not Crazy Frog! Doctor Who was of course back - with a bang!

What I'd tragically forgotten, however, was how integral the three tie-in novels were to my first series. This title was selected as the first for the DWO Book Club, to commemorate ten wonderful years since Rose's first broadcast, and how glad I am. 

There is something of a sense of uncertainty in this book, in the same way as the television show had at the time. Although a second and third series were commissioned before Rose even aired, they certainly hadn't at the time this was written. It feels a little like Cole wants to make this his greatest  contribution to Doctor Who, as it may be the closest he ever comes to contributing indisputably to the canon. 

In this vein, it sits well that The Monsters Inside sees Rose visiting her first alien planet - Justice Alpha. And so begins an impressively expansive and imaginative adventure nestled in the middle of Series One. Justicia is a system of six planets that have been taken over as a giant prison by EarthGov, for criminals throughout the empire. Before long, in traditional Doctor Who style, the Doctor and Rose are split up and sent to opposite ends of the solar system. 

Their route back together isn't made easier by the presence of Slitheen or pesky species fellows the Blathereen. The scope of this plot is staggering, and you can really tell how much work has gone into the backbones of this book. It's even more impressive, then, that it's so well written on a page-by-page basis too. All of the supporting characters (from Dennel to Robsen to Flowers, and many more) are extremely skilfully crafted, and have their own individual identities. Little passages of insight early on pay dividends later as they're referenced by and influence parts of the plot. 

The web of crime stretches further by the chapter too, as we discover another part of the Blathereen master plan. Cole keeps the sense that anyone could turn out to be an imposter present throughout, including several double bluffs and red herrings. This could arguably be considered quite an easy translation to an Earth-based story, with the only difference here being that the double agents have zips across their foreheads. But I don't think that's fair - particularly in light of the Blathereen's ultimate goal. The family, led by patriarch Don Arco, plan to collapse space so they can pass the entire Justicia system through it to burn out worlds at the other end of the warp hole. Like the Slitheen, they can then sell on the radioactive waste as fuel, for a tidy profit. 

Happily, the Doctor and Rose are integral to this story. The research centre unknowingly pioneering the warp hole technology is stuck in a technological rut until the Doctor shows up, making an undeniable catalyst of the following events. Rose is sent to a women's prison, and upon departure, everyone in the place knows her name. Even if it weren't for the final onslaught led by Maggi, Rose made a tangible difference to the lives of these inmates, and she's portrayed as pleasingly proactive throughout this book. This is the 2005 Rose we fell in love with, no shadow of a doubt. 

Cole also writes the Slitheen and Blathereen exceptionally well. Beyond giving them great personalities, he also leaps on the hooks introduced by Russell T Davies in the species first appearance Aliens of London. He harnesses the true potential of the characters, and I mean that entirely seriously. The race are expanded on here in a way that it's impossible to on television, and you're never in any doubt that not only will they kill you, but they'll nuke your planet to sell off as chunks of profit. Don Arco is really enjoyably written, and I loved Dram and Ecktosca. All of these characters really bring the novel to life. 

All in all then, this is a remarkably good novel. It's awful that it must have been five or six years since I last read it. Whereas some later titles in the range were basically just inconsequential missing adventures, Cole makes every effort to marry this up with the TV series, expanding upon it wonderfully. And he was rewarded by a mention of Justicia in Boom Town and the appearance of Slitheen-Blathereen offspring in The Sarah Jane Adventures. This is very well written, packed full of excellent ideas and the perfect bridge between twentieth and twenty-first century Doctor Who. In old money, this seems to suit the six-part structure very neatly without ever feeling bloated. The characters of Eccleston and Piper are captured expertly - this is the TARDIS team I remember growing up with. With a Raxacoricofallapatorian Mafia in tow, Cole proves Davies' widely-derided creations do have a place in the main show and makes me long for their return. An excellent, thoroughly enjoyable story, and the perfect way to celebrate the tenth anniversary. 

In a Nutshell: Easily readable, enjoyable and sophisticated, this is near-perfect.

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