Wednesday, 14 December 2011

‘Doctor Who: Borrowed Time’ – Naomi A. Alderman (BBC Books)

Over the last year or so, it has become clearer to me that I much prefer ‘Doctor Who’ in it’s natural home, on the TV, rather than in book form. Not that I don’t enjoy the books not at all (especially if it’s Michael Moorcock taking up the writing duties) but, for me, the quality has been a lot more consistent in the show. As far as the books go though, for every ‘Dead of Winter’ there is a ‘Touched by an Angel’... To be blunt, the TV show churns out winners a lot more than the books do.

That’s not to say that I’ll stop reading the books though (no matter what I might have said after reading ‘Touched by an Angel’). The simple fact of the matter is that I love ‘Doctor Who’ and I’ll seek out my fix wherever I can (especially now the TV show is over for the time being) whether it’s old clips on Youtube, the old Target novelizations or what BBC books are bringing out at the moment. Which brings me neatly onto Naomi Alderman’s ‘Borrowed Time’. ‘Touched by an Angel’ was so disappointing that I briefly considered not bothering with the books anymore but ‘Borrowed Time’ was there, waiting to be read, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’m really glad I did. ‘Borrowed Time’ isn’t a perfect read, by any means, but I had a lot of fun with it all the same...

Andrew Brown never seems to have enough time to get everything done, a really bad thing when you’re working at an investment bank and your main rival for promotion is always one step ahead of you. How come Sameera Jenkins always seems to find those extra few minutes in the day, where is she finding the time?
Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop have just the answer; they are prepared to lend Andrew time at a very reasonable rate of interest, in the same way that they have been lending time to everyone else at the bank. Has anyone read the small print though? No, they haven’t and that’s where the Doctor comes in.
The Doctor senses danger and goes undercover at the bank to find out just what is going on. Events become a little more urgent though when Amy borrows a little time for herself and realises just what it’s going to take to pay it back...

Like I said, ‘Borrowed Time’ isn’t a perfect read but what it’s just like is watching one of those madcap episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ on the TV. You know, the ones where everyone seems to be running a lot and there’s always a monster hiding round the corner when you least expect it. That’s ‘Borrowed Time’ and it was a lot of fun to read. I’d love to see a few more ‘Doctor Who’ books just like this one if that’s ok?

Now I’ve got no idea what compound interest is and precisely the kind of mind that refuses to grasp the concept. I can write a blog but numbers make me want to go and hide somewhere with loads of books to distract me, that’s just the way I am I guess :o)

What this meant of course was that when the Doctor tried to explain what was going on, to Amy Pond, the whole lot went straight over my head and I couldn’t help but find myself thinking of cake (read the book and you’ll see why...) Now this isn’t the book’s fault but I found myself wondering how the younger section of the Doctor Who fan base would cope with that explanation... The short answer is ‘probably better than me’ but I still wonder if those passages could have been a little bit clearer (and if anyone wants to leave a comment next to this post, that explains compound interest, I’d be very grateful thanks!)

Once you get past this though you’ll find yourself slap bang in the middle of some classic ‘Doctor Who’ storytelling. As far as I’m concerned, Naomi Alderman hits the target dead on with what she brings to the page.

Alderman kicks things by somehow letting us know exactly what’s going on but dressing it up as a mystery, that we need to get to the bottom of, all at the same time. We know what’s happening (well, some of it) but the Doctor and his companions don’t and the Doctor’s inquisitiveness is infectious, I wanted to be around to see him discover the big picture. That big picture is a delightful blend of investment banking with an alien flavour that intrigued me more than enough to keep reading. I loved the way that Alderman took something fairly mundane and shows the reader that the rest of the galaxy is at it as well, it has just been taken to a whole new level...

I’ve already mentioned the abundance of running in the plot, whether it’s away from something or a frantic dash to be somewhere so the day can be well and truly saved. The predatory Messrs Symington and Blenkinsop are ‘Doctor Who’ monsters in the nastiest tradition, full of teeth and utterly remorseless. They’re also very quick on their feet and this has the added affect of keeping the plot moving rapidly whenever they make an appearance. Events move along quickly and you end up moving along with them. Alderman builds up enough of a rapport with her characters to make you care about what happens to them (especially Amy Pond) and when you add this to the underlying mystery, and those monsters snapping at the Doctor’s heels, you end up with a book that almost demands you keep reading.

A large chunk of ‘Borrowed Time’ went over my head and perhaps could have been explained a little more clearly but this is more than made up for with the rest of the book. What you’ve got here is a tale that any fan will love and I hope that Naomi Alderman writes more ‘Doctor Who’ books in the future.

Nine out of Ten


Heloise said...

I was somewhat surprised to see Naomi Alderman as author of a Doctor Who novel, seeing how she is not really a genre author - I read her first novel, Disobedience which I liked a lot and which is literary fiction witout any speculative element at all (it's about two women and their relationship to each other as well as the Jewish Orthodox community they've grown up in). That made me a bit hesitant to get Borrowed Time, but after reading your review, I think I'll give it a shot.

Graeme Flory said...

Naomi A. Alderman wrote 'Borrowed Time'; I'm not sure if that 'A' makes any difference but it could be a different Naomi Alderman entirely. Worth checking out before you buy the book ;o)

Heloise said...

I did, and as far as I could ascertain it is the sampe person - I guess the "A." is similar to the "M." Iain Banks uses when he's publishing science fiction. Which might even mean that she plans on writing, if not more Doctor Who, then at least more science fiction in the future.