Review first published 25/07/12
“Now, you may or may not have noticed, but we appear to be on fire…”
On a windswept Northern shore, at the very tip of what will one day become Scotland, the islanders believe the worst they have to fear is a Viking attack. Then the burning comes. They cannot run from it. Water will not stop it. It consumes everything in its path – yet the burned still speak.
The Doctor is just looking for a game on the famous Lewis chess set. Instead he encounters a people under attack from a power they cannot possibly understand. They have no weapons, no strategy and no protection against a fire sent to engulf them all.
Add in some marauding Vikings with very bad timing, a kidnapped princess with a secret of her own and a TARDIS that seems to have developed an inexplicable fear of water, and they all have a battle on their hands. The islanders must take on a ruthless alien force in a world without technology; without communications; without tea that isn’t made out of bark. Still at least they have the Doctor on their side… Don’t they?
A thrilling new adventure starring the Doctor, as played by Matt Smith.
Well, I have been raving on about how much I have wanted to read this book for several months now, certainly since it was announced on Amazon and on various Doctor Who sites, and now it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is…. Is Dark Horizons any good? As a Whovian, I would say an emphatic “Yes”!!!
J.T Colgan, better known in literary circles as Jenny Colgan, author of “Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe” and “Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams” has crafted a novel which will have a Doctor Who fanboy… or fangirl’s pulse racing.
She has taken the Doctor Who staple of the “Base under Siege” story and transplanted into an era of bloodthirsty Vikings and instead of frightened scientists, you have frightened villagers, not only due to the Vikings but to the otherwordly threat against them.
Ms Colgan’s prose is extremely descriptive and as a reader I was immersed into a world where you got a sense of geography, the societal structures – both Viking and for the the islanders, and the weather… which is a key component of the novel.
The rhythm of the dialogue is very much “Nu Who” with the Vikings and islanders speaking in contemporary English, as though the reader has been given access to the TARDIS’s translation circuits, which is reminiscent of episodes like “The Fires of Pompeii” and “The Shakespeare Code”.
The structure of the book also felt like a “Nu Who” story with a double pre-credit sequence of the Doctor travelling in the TARDIS wishing that he could play a game of chess alongside the initial unveiling of the threat to the first band of Vikings to appear in the novel and cliffhangers being present to make you feel that this could have been a two parter for the series.
Character wise, there are a few characters that really stand out in my mind.
Firstly, the Doctor himself. I’ve read novels where the author gets him spot on and there are books where you are left wondering that that’s not the Doctor that’s in your head. I can safely say that Ms Colgan gets Matt Smith’s incarnation down perfectly. From the way he talks to animals to the way he faces down aggressors, you could imagine the eleventh Doctor delivering that dialogue. He is a man of peace at heart… or hearts, even more so than is afforded to him on screen and you get a sense that this is a Doctor who is a product of the aftermath of the Time War and, more significantly, River Song’s chiding words at the conclusion of the episode “A Good Man Goes To War”… a man who is reluctantly steeped in blood. In addition to this, bow ties are still cool and there is even a line where the Doctor wishes he was relaxing wearing a hat… wonder if it was a Fez?
For fans of the eleventh Doctor family, you will be disappointed that the Ponds aren’t in this book and the companion role is shared between reformed Viking Henrik and kidnapped princess Freydis. Freydis is distrustful of the Doctor for the majority of this book, believing him to be the god Loki, whilst displaying a sense of independence that would see her as an “almost companion” alongside the likes of Sally Sparrow or Astrid Peth, albeit grounded in a Dark Ages framework.
Henrik comes across as Rory, in all but name, as he builds a relationship dynamic with Freydis which turns into a protector role very much as everyone’s favourite “Lone Centurion”. However, Henrik also has a historical dynamic with the Doctor which makes him look on in wonder at the world which the Time Lord drags him into. Even though the time period of the piece is dramatically different, there was a sense of the friendship that the second incarnation had with Jamie, both as teacher/mentor and as a friend.
The island leader, Corc, could almost be a product from the Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat era for the show as the author puts family at the heart of a major plot strand, significantly the fact that hot headed elder son, Eoric, believes his father is too soft on the shipwrecked Vikings, something that has some significance later in the novel.
The alien antagonist took a little getting used to as the Doctor initially describes them as a fairly amoral race who seek to achieve their aim of survival, but who, I imagine, through desperation to survive become as bloodthirsty as the Viking invaders and are willing to sacrifice lives as the stakes are raised. This is a shame, in my mind as I would have liked them to be more amoral throughout rather than what could be classified as “the bad guys”.
Another area where I had some difficulty, initially, was where the plot meanders into areas away from the main plot and I really needed to concentrate, especially as one of those strands is a main component to part of the novel’s conclusion.
All in all, a decent entry into the “Doctor Who” literary canon and I hope Ms Colgan is brought back for another novel… maybe writing for “her” Doctor… the fifth incarnation as portrayed by Peter Davison.