“11 Doctors, 11 Stories” – Part Four

I was going to have all of my Doctors in the one post, but it seems that I had way too much to say about Nine and Ten, so I’ll have to have Eleven on his own. Hopefully that will just be a short post for you guys. So I’ll dive right in, shall I?

The Ninth Doctor: The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson

Hello again, Nine! So very pleased to see you. And at the very, very beginning of your reign as the Doctor too. Fantastic.
Charlie Higson is definitely a man who understands Doctor Who. This whole story fits into that sliver of Rose’s indecision at the end of Nine’s first episode. Nine managed to save two civilisations from a rampaging alien in those few seconds. This wasn’t Higson’s only exceptional use of time. He also referenced the first story in this collection. Again, fantastic! Higson really nailed the whole time travel aspect of the Doctor. I’m not saying the other guys didn’t as well, but Higson’s way was more nuanced. I love a good nuance:

The Doctor looked at the claw and flexed his wrist.
‘A long time ago, in a body far, far away, I had something like that,’ he said. ‘Though not on that scale.’

In this particular Doctor Who adventure, Nine and his companion, Ali, meet on Karkinos, a planet and companion that Higson completely made up. Nine is warning Ali and her family to go home because there’s imminent danger. Of course, no one believes him. Until two huge men “taller than the largest building”, and somehow not quite completely present, materialise. Nine does something Doctorish and the two men disappear in “a great dancing dust devil”. But in the process, Nine drops a heavy, silver orb that Ali picks up. And the Doctor needs it back.

Two two men turn out to be a Starman, a “planet eater”, and there’s another one on the loose. But Starmen can change their form and travel through time and space, much like our two-hearted hero. This new Starman has decided to go back in time and reappear as none other than the Beast of Babylon.

Not only did Higson exploit the timey-wimeyness of Doctor Who, but he also exploited writing as a medium. When we meet Ali, we envision a teenage girl. Especially because the Doctor calls her a teenage girl. We get flashes of a bit of a Hulk “you-wouldn’t-like-me-when-I’m-angry” thing with Ali about a third of the way in, so we start to think that she might not be entirely human. Which you expect with the Doctor anyway. I was envisioning a bit of a Star-Crossed thing, You know, humanoid aliens with strange markings or something.
(I am OBSESSED with Star-Crossed. If you aren’t already watching that show, get on it NOW. Here, have a trailer:

But this is so not that case. Higson, using all the tool’s in the writers’ toolbox, hides Ali’s full physical description until the very end. Which just makes the reveal so much more dramatic:

There was something up there, coming out of the palace on to the balcony. Whatever it was, it must have thrown the man down. It reached the balustrade and stood there, raising itself up on long thin legs, seeming to peer down at the people in the square, opening and closing a massive claw.
“It is the Great Beast!”
“No it’s not,” said the Doctor. “It’s a friend of mine.”

Two [of the guards] had enough courage to throw their spears, but they couldn’t penetrate her shell. Her antenodes whipped out together, taking one man round the ankle. He fell hard on the stone floor and now she was scuttling after the rest of them as  they retreated out of the door. They couldn’t hope to outrun her, her six legs were faster than their two, and in a moment she was on them and her battle claw ripped into them.

Ali is actually a Karkinian warrior “crustacean” (The Doctor’s words) equipped with a wicked temper, detachable stingers, impenetrable armour, and “eight feeding fingers round her mouth”.
What a reveal, Higson. That was genius.

The Tenth Doctor: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy

It doesn’t matter how many times I say it, I don’t think anyone will ever understand just how much I love the Tenth Doctor. And David Tennant. I may go on a bit of a Cumberbatch or Hiddleston rant every now and then, but when it all comes down to it, Tennant is my favourite actor. Hands down. I have never seen him give anything less than one hundred per cent in any role he’s done. He becomes his characters. Everything, down to his big toe, becomes whoever he is playing at that particular moment in time.

Plus, that voice. Have you ever listened to Tennant reading a Doctor Who story? His Scottish accent coupled with his Doctor voice? Seriously, get out there now and find one of his audiobooks. I suggest Dead Air. Just a word of warning though, don’t listen to it at night. It’s kind of scary.

Landy’s story was incredible. It’s set on a planet that takes its form from a series of books that Martha read as a child called ‘The Troubleseekers’. And not just its form, but its inhabitants as well. The best way to see how well-developed your characters and story-lines are is definitely to see them brought to life:

‘I’m the Doctor; this is Martha. You are…?”
‘Mrs O’Grady,’ said the old woman. ‘How do you do?’
‘Mrs O’Grady,’ the Doctor repeated. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have a first name, would you?’
‘Yes I do,’ said Mrs O’Grady. ‘Mrs.’
‘What a fully developed character you must be,’ the Doctor said, raising a sceptical eyebrow at Martha.

What Landy does is to poke fun at subpar children’s fiction. Everyone’s read subpar kids’ books, whether you’re aware of it or not. Underneath the banter between the Doctor and Martha regarding the contrived plot, characters as plot devices, and obvious clues and red herrings of ‘The Troubleseekers’ is a deeper debate. I kind of see Doctor as a mouthpiece for the author and Martha as the general public. If you aren’t aware, Derek Landy wrote Skulduggery Pleasant, a book that won numerous awards in the children’s literature field. What I think Landy is trying to say, through the Doctor, is that there’s no need to dumb things down for children. Sure, they may not necessarily notice if characters aren’t completely three dimensional, or if the pieces of a story fit together just a little too easily, but does that mean you don’t try to give them a decent work of fiction? Children’s imaginations are an incredible resource (as the villain in this story seems to have figured out), but that doesn’t mean children’s authors can take the easy way out and let their imagination do the writing for them. I thoroughly enjoyed this subtext. It reminds me of something Sonya Hartnett once said. Hartnett is an Aussie author who wrote a book that disturbed me to my very core, Sleeping Dogs. That’s not to say that the book wasn’t well-written, it was the subject matter that gave me the shivers. Anyway, this is what she had to say in an interview with the Guardian:

“I have spent a great deal of my time defending my work against those who see it as too complicated, too old in approach, too bleak to qualify as children’s literature…Would you like it better if I dumbed down? Kept the sentences blunt and short?”

Hartnett writes for herself, it’s us as readers that categorise her work. So if we’ve categorised it as being children’s literature. So why question our original judgement? Hartnett doesn’t feel a need to dumb down her writing for her audience. If they can read it, and like her work, then they will read it? Why simplify language for an audience that doesn’t need things simplified? There’s no need. I think this is what Landy was getting at, and I whole-heartedly agree with him.

When the villain in our story starts to realise that the Doctor and Martha are trying to destroy his empire, he starts to dig deeper into Martha’s imagination and we meet all different figures in literature who turn on the dynamic duo. Rapunzel, Dracula, the Yellow Brick Road, Miss Havisham, Bella and Edward, and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Brilliant! I loved seeing all of these characters mingling with each other. We even got a bit of time-travelling humour when Martha said she’d seen Rapunzel’s Disney movie. I can only assume she meant Tangled. Meaning that even Martha has seen that movie before I have. I really need to get on that.

I’ve read a lot of Doctor-and-Martha stories where Martha is haphazardly written, but Landy gave us Martha in all her glory. I could see Martha so clearly in my head, something that hasn’t happened in my past experiences. So, thank you again Mr. Landy.
My only problem with this story was that Ten came off a little arrogant. I mean, he did have his moments of arrogance, but Ten wasn’t a braggart. He used his cleverness in service of others. Always. Except for that brief window of time where he went loopy and we got the Time Lord Victorious. But still, he never put people down by comparing them to himself. Because that just wouldn’t be fair.

He snapped his head to look at her, suddenly smiling. ‘That’s exactly what I mean. Oh, you are smart. Not as smart as me but, well…who is?’

Tennant’s Ten would have left it at the compliment. He built up his companions. He never tore them down. He never belittled them. So why would he start now?

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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