Friday, 10 June 2011

‘Doctor Who: Dead of Winter’ – James Goss (BBC Books)

So... The other day I was banging on about how my reading mojo has basically locked itself in the bathroom and is refusing to come out; it’s really tired and needs some rest you see. This particular issue is still an issue thanks to any number of things all conspiring to leave me an exhausted wreck with no energy to pick up a book at all. I’m not beaten that easily though, no sir. The bottom line is that I love reading and I’m not going to let something like a throat infection (I have one of those now too...) stop me doing what I love. How to go about it though? Simple, bring on the comfort reads... You know what I mean don’t you? Those reads that you know you can just pick up and get into with the minimum effort required, like easing your feet gently into a nice comfortable pair of old slippers :o) Yep, there’ll be a few more of those around the place over the next couple of weeks; just to help me pace myself a bit.

With this in mind then there was never any doubt that ‘Doctor Who’ wouldn’t feature at some point. The books are fun reads that don’t really require an awful lot more from me than to keep the pages turning so I saw no reason to expect anything different from ‘Dead of Winter’. At least that’s what I thought at the time, ‘Dead of Winter’ turned out to be a different beast entirely...

In 18th century Italy, a doctor promotes a cure for consumption that is decades ahead of its time. One of his charges, a young girl, watches everything that goes on and writes to her mother to tell her of mysterious Russian nobles and the mist that not only covers the sea but also the strange faceless creatures that emerge from it during the night. This lonely girl will tell her mother of the very friendly yet somehow enigmatic Mrs Pond who arrives at the clinic with her husband and personal physician. If things were strange before then they’re about to become even more so...

If you’ve been watching the last few series of ‘Doctor Who’ then you’ll know that, amongst all the episodes involving running, scary aliens and big explosions, the producers love to throw us an episode with none of the aforementioned but an episode that will nevertheless leave us thinking, “wow...”
‘Dead of Winter’ is the literary equivalent of this approach. I never saw it coming, having sat through a couple of other books that were more standard fare, but I’m very glad that I was around for the experience and wouldn’t turn down more of the same.

‘Dead of Winter’ has you thinking about its plot right from the start as the questions start to build up at a ferocious rate. There’s a pretty big question to be answered at the clinic but before we can even start thinking about that there’s a whole horde of smaller (yet no less significant) questions demanding your time. It’s worth pointing out here that nothing here is as it seems either and you are constantly being led down one route only to be surprised at where it ends up. The whole ‘loss of memory’ plot has been done plenty of times before but Goss’ use of the little girl as the main viewpoint really freshens things up and adds a real air of uncertainty to the proceedings. If she doesn’t know who’s who then there’s no way that we can either... until the precise moment where Goss plans for you to get the big picture. This approach isn’t overdone and the plot moves along all the more smoothly for it. There are twists and turns but it’s all aimed at a very definite conclusion on the horizon and that’s where the biggest surprise of all is lurking.

If there’s one concern that I had it was with the way that I felt Goss let the story run away from him after the ‘big reveal’ that sets the climactic events in motion. This kind of spectacle looks very good on the small screen and there’s certainly an energy here that powers the plot forward at just the right moment. It just felt a little messy on the page though (as opposed to the screen where it would all be done with in a matter of minutes) and I felt that this obscured some of the motives of the creatures that the Doctor was facing.

Luckily for the reader, events move on quickly enough for this not be a huge deal and we are faced with not only the ‘big payoff’ but some of the ramifications that this brings. We are treated to a supporting cast that is gradually built up into a group of people where we find ourselves interested in how their individual stories turn out. It’s made clear, and in no uncertain terms, that an association with the Doctor can be as dangerous as it is fun. There’s a real dark side to his adventures and I don’t think there are many places where that comes across as strongly as it does here (in the look on certain people’s faces as the Doctor leaves them to what must come next...)

‘Dead of Winter’ is a dark tale that demands your attention throughout the entire book and rewards you well for that time spent. A very welcome surprise, the kind of book that will see me read more ‘Doctor Who’ books in the hope that I find another one just like it.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten


Anonymous said...

I read the book. The story was good. But the Doctor, Amy and Rory love triangle popped up in this again even though it has not featured in sixth series. I found this annoying as he seemed to be going over old ground. I also found the Doctor's attitude to Rory very strange. I don't think the characters were well written, although i loved little Maria.

If anything i would have liked this book to have appeared last year. That would have made the characters much better.


Anonymous said...

Yeah good point