Audio Review: Doctor Who: Dark Horizons

(AudioGo)

GAMES of chess, windswept coasts, Viking warriors, and the Time Lord caught up in a battle with a deadly alien force – sounds a bit like Sylvester McCoy yarn The Curse of Fenric doesn’t it?

In actual fact, although there are superficial similarities between the 1989 story and this latest original novel by chick lit writer Jenny Colgan (here writing at JT Colgan), it is far from a rehash of that celebrated adventure.

Travelling alone, the Doctor is looking for a game on the famous Lewis chess set when the TARDIS lands on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides in the 12th century, where the inhabitants’ greatest fear is an attack by Viking marauders.

But there are worse things out there… A ruthless force which consumes all it touches in a deadly conflagration, a fire which cannot be stopped by water, and which leaves its burning victims still able to communicate. It is a power the simple and unarmed islanders have no hope of understanding, or defeating, but at least they have the Doctor on their side – don’t they?


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Joining forces with farm boy Henrik, the Time Lord finds himself facing a variety of opponents, both human and extraterrestrial, as he strives to prevent the destruction of the settlement and the death of all its inhabitants, either by Viking raiders or the alien firestarter.

The Beeb’s decision to release occasional “guest author” novels by leading writers famous for non-Who work continues to pay off with another excellent addition to the range. They allow for a depth of characterisation and plotting which is often lacking from the standard range of Who books, and Colgan admirably produces a work which perfectly captures the cadences and beats of the TV show while allowing the freedom of the format to develop her story in new and innovative directions.

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Her fan roots shine through, but in a good way, as she gets the Eleventh Doctor’s mannerisms and personality down to a tee, but Colgan has also done her factual research, and paints a vivid picture of both this period of history and the environment of her narrative. She also creates a supporting cast the reader can emotionally invest in, something lacking in other Who books where they end up as little more than cannon fodder.

The days of the Virgin New Adventures novels, packed with copious amounts of sex, violence and “adult” scenarios, have long since passed us by, and there’s nothing here which really would be out of place on screen, ensuring this book remains suitable for all ages, but without dumbing down for a younger audience. Maybe some of the graphic descriptions of immolation are a bit excessive, but then no kid is really going to complain about that!

A bit like the Vertigo Comics Viking series Northlanders, the 12th century protagonists use a lot of contemporary expressions and concepts, but the show’s always taken an unconventional approach to history, even in the Doctor’s first clash with Norse protagonists in the 1965 story The Time Meddler.

Neve McIntosh, who plays the Silurian Victorian adventuress Madame Vastra in the TV series, offers a first-rate reading of Colgan’s story, ensuring this audio is the next best thing to actually seeing this story unfold on TV. Highly recommended.

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