For centuries the Maintainers have worked. With no help from other worlds, they subsist on the food they can grow and that’s little enough. But their purpose, their whole life is to maintain the machines that will one day make their world as habitable as old Earth. Life used to be hard. Now as their crops fail, livestock sickens, and the temperature drops, it’s becoming impossible. This year’s Winter Season Feast won’t be the usual celebration. It’s not a time for optimism or hope – and it’s not a time to welcome unexpected guests. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory find a society breaking apart under the strain. Tensions are mounting, old rivalries are coming to the fore, people are dying… And then the Doctor’s old enemies, the Ice Warriors, make their move. With the cold-hearted threat of invasion, the real battle for survival begins. Or does it? The Doctor begins to suspect that behind everything lies a deadlier, and even more chilling danger…
With the Fiftieth anniversary of the longest running sci-fi television series in history (official according to the Guinness Book of Records) drawing ever closer, I thought that it would be fitting to dust off this book that I’ve on my “To Read” list for much of this year as it’s a book that very much encapsulates the diverse history of this much beloved programme into one novel.
Following the obligatory pre-credits sequence which sets up the main threat for this story, we are introduced to one of the more recent versions of “Team TARDIS” in the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor, portrayed on screen by Matt Smith, and his companions Amy and Rory, portrayed by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill who recently left the programme in 2012. Now, I’m going to get straight into the issue of how the Doctor and his companions are represented.
Throughout the novel, Dan Abnett absolutely nails the written “portrayals” of these three characters. Whereas you don’t get the verbal rhythms of Messrs Smith and Darvill and Miss Gillan to follow, the written text convincingly sells that the written characters and their televisual counterparts are one and the same. The Doctor is a bundle of energy who, although he doesn’t appear to have his television counterpart’s more clumsy traits, has the playful exterior who thinks that things are “cool” and has witty banter with his adversary which belies a core of conviction that his purpose is to maintain fairness – no matter whether the species is human or alien. Amy is very much the Doctor’s “best friend” and beyond her description that she has red hair, the written Amy has the recognisable traits of being able to make fun of the Doctor, challenge his point of view, when required, and be brave in the face of advancing Ice Warriors whilst being conflicted over the fact that she has to be separated from the Doctor and Rory. In addition to this, there is a lovely physical description touch where she wears a duffel coat and mittins, which harkens back to her childhood persona of “Amelia Pond”, who featured in Matt Smith’s opening episode “The Eleventh Hour”. Rory is separated from the Doctor and Amy for most of the novel and this is fitting, not only to drive the plot as it can be moved along two strands, but it also serves to provide the character with great description of the traits that Arthur Darvill brings to the role such as his level headed nature, particularly in a crisis, his moral stance that he will stand by his friends no matter the cost, his intelligence – especially when he is being pursued by an Ice Warrior and you hear his inner monologue thinking out how he is going to survive this pursuit, alongside potential hypothermia, and his willingness to physically throw himself into danger.
It’s fitting that the story starts off with the TARDIS crew in search of Christmas in Amy and Rory’s home town of Leadworth, because it does have the feeling of the Christmas specials where the Doctor is thrown into an adventure where Christmas has nothing to really do with the plot – especially as you find out that they are not in Leadworth at Christmas, but on the planet Hereafter in the grip of an impending ice age. However, this is not the only nod to the “Doctor Who” series as Abnett cleverly crafts a novel which weaves in plot elements from the programme’s rich tapestry.
The society of the planet Hereafter, or more specifically the settlement of Beside, could be lifted from one of the television versions “Base Under Siege” story such as “The Tenth Planet” or “The Ice Warriors”. However, Abnett cleverly introduces another element from the programme’s history in a society who has largely forgotten their origins only to turn their society in a pattern of traditions, religion and grammatical corruption (such as in the TV stories “State of Decay” transmitted in 1980 and “The Face of Evil” transmitted in 1976 which featured societies controlled, corrupted and regressed into a less developed version of the original version). These two elements provide the background to create a convincing society which has been attempting to terramorph a planet at the expense of regressing into a superstitious society where the forebears original roles and rituals are reflected in building names, religious icons and even the names of the people.
Once the Ice Warriors are introduced, Abnett has to do a clever juggling act. On the one hand, he has to sell them as an effective opponent for the Doctor, which he does by feeding off their original M.O. from serials such as “The Ice Warriors”, “The Seeds of Death” and “The Monster of Peladon” where they are cast as the villains. However, on the other hand he has to balance this with fact that they have also been seen as an honourable race of Warriors who, although they have a very rigid code of honour, are also on “the side of the angels”, as in the television story “The Curse of Peladon”. This balancing act makes for characters who are more than just villains because they have a practical reason for their actions, even though the Doctor and his friends, and through them the reader, may not appreciate them. It also serves to give a great set-up for the book’s third act where I can’t speak of too much. (As in the words of River Song, “Spoilers”).
The book is a fast paced read and even though it took me a couple of weeks to read, I wasn’t reading at full pace until today where I ended up reading half of the book in a day.
To round off, “The Silent Stars Go By” is a fast paced read which fans of the new version of the programme will enjoy, but which doesn’t abandon the roots of the “classic” series that inspired it, and the Winter setting along with the monsters make for a great story to read on these longer evenings.