Wednesday, 30 November 2011

‘Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel’ – Jonathan Morris (BBC Books)

Welcome to the last day of November (that was quick, where did the month go?) and a review for a book that I actually read way back in September, I think. That’s the way my reading seems to gone over the last few months; books were read but then seemed to spend a lot more time on the ‘I really need to review this’ pile than they would do normally. I don’t know why this is, actually... yes I do.
I try to review everything that I finish reading but doing this really depends on the reaction I get from reading a book. A strong reaction (positive or otherwise) will invariably lead to a book being reviewed here shortly after I finish reading; that’s pretty much why you’ve probably seen a number of positive reviews in quick succession here. If it’s a book that doesn’t really leave me feeling anything though... Well, if a book doesn’t fully engage with me then I’ll often find myself not really wanting to engage with it in return (especially just recently). This is all the more disappointing when it’s a ‘Doctor Who’ book that I’m reading but you can’t win em’ all I guess. I promised a review though so...

Eight years after his wife’s death, Mark Whitaker is still grieving and has no idea how he will get his life back on track. That is, until the day he receives a battered envelope containing a set of instructions and one simple message... ‘You can save her’.
Mark now has a second chance at happiness and will do whatever it takes to save his wife Rebecca. The Doctor however knows that far more is at stake than the life of one woman. The Weeping Angels have returned and they will stop at nothing less than using history itself as a weapon in order to achieve their aims...

I’ve mentioned it before but Doctor Who novels are great comfort reads for me and with the best ones it’s like reading an actual episode of the show straight off the page. Because of this I always look forward to the new releases and will always pick them up for a read. After ‘Touched by an Angel’ though, maybe this won’t always be the case. For the first time in a long time I can see myself re-reading a few old favourites instead of picking up the latest book.

‘Touched by an Angel’ is the story of a man wracked by grief who is given the opportunity to bend time itself in order to be reunited with his one true love. As far as this goes, the book works very well with a story told in flashbacks of how Mark and Rebecca came to be together. You get a really strong feeling of how much Rebecca means to Mark and the grief he feels at her passing and, with this more than sold foundation, it’s not too much of a leap at all to see how Mark would do whatever he could to bring her back. The ending is a little bit predictable but the reasoning behind it is made very clear so you can understand why it has to turn out the way it does (even if, like me, you’re secretly hoping for something else entirely).

So what’s the big issue then? A bittersweet tale of time travelling romance is just the kind of thing that the current series of Doctor Who seems to thrive on so what could possibly go wrong here? Unfortunately, Morris’ treatment of the Doctor himself pretty much killed things off for me when it really should have got things going...

What I love about the Doctor (whether he’s on the screen or in a book) is the sense you get that he is doing everything on the fly. He may be the most intelligent being you’re likely to come across but villainous aliens will give him a run for his money and he’ll only save the day at the very last minute. As a result, you may know when to expect the ‘big reveal’ but there’s always a tense time guaranteed before you get there.

Not here though, not in ‘Touched by an Angel’. The Doctor is in control of things just a little too much and things fall into place just a little too neatly for there to be any real tension at all. If there’s no tension then there’s no fun, not for me anyway, not when everything is explained away so neatly and so quickly. It got to the point where every eventuality was covered so well that I found myself thinking that the book only needed maybe ten pages maximum to tell its story, not the two hundred and thirty seven pages that we get. Explaining everything away via ‘Bill and Ted’s Theory of Time Travel’ was funny in ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ but it’s just annoying here.

This approach also had the knock on effect of rendering perhaps the scariest new monsters in Doctor Who ineffective and pretty much pathetic. The Doctor takes care of the Weeping Angels without breaking a sweat and I had to ask myself why I’d bothered reading if things were going to be taken care of that easily. The answer was a very quick ‘it’s Doctor Who’ (have you guessed I’m a bit of a fan?) but that answer rang a bit hollow this time round.

‘Touched by an Angel’ is a tale that delivers on one front but fails to deliver on what it really needed to in order to make it a good ‘Doctor Who’ novel. Like I said, a real shame...

Six out of Ten

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