First, a bit of full disclosure--I pitched a Doctor Who novel back before the new series revival that featured a manipulative Doctor trapped in an inescapable asteroid prison, which may have colored my enjoyment of this book with the faint taste of nostalgia. That said, a big part of why I wrote my pitch for 'Heist' the way I did was because I wanted to evoke some of my favorite elements of 'Doctor Who' during the McCoy/New Adventures era, the unexpected reveals of the Doctor in bizarre situations and the way he put authority figures so brilliantly off-balance. So it's not really so much that James Goss wrote a book I would have loved to have written as it is that he wrote a book that fits squarely into the traditions of the series that I love best.
And boy, did he. The very first scene is an absolute marvel--it's not just the reveal of the Doctor, it's not just the reveal of the prison. It's the Governor. The narration of the entire sequence, indeed of the entire book, is from his point of view...and it's wrong. Not in any way you can pinpoint yet, but something about the Governor is magnificently, ineffably wrong. The Governor is a man with mysteries to unravel, and the Prison is a place that conceals more than just prisoners. That initial scene pulls you all the way through the narrative on the sheer force of its writing.
And the rest of the novel is paced brilliantly. Each revelation, from the power outages to Clara's arrival to the Doctor's interactions with the other prisoners to the...well, but that would be telling, wouldn't it? They all come at exactly the right time to immerse you further into the story, to tantalize you with the next set of questions and the next set of answers. The Governor's palpable wrongness is teased out of the story expertly, the confessions drawn out of him at exactly the right times. Goss really is performing a masterwork of plotting, and his quiet, almost serene style nonetheless exacerbates the constant tension in the book.
And of course, Goss has a perfect handle on Capaldi and Coleman's renditions of their characters. The book feels like it couldn't be done with anyone other than Twelve and Clara, and the interplay between them sparkles magnificently. (The scene where Clara asks the Doctor why he can't simply regenerate his way out of a stubbed toe is a thing of beauty.)
Ultimately, the ending is satisfying, although it perhaps tries to ramp up the scale of its threat just a bit too much for what has up until now been an entirely holistic and seamless sense of menace. But it is unquestionably excellent, a masterpiece as both a Doctor Who story and a character study. The Governor will stay with you long after 'The Blood Cell' ends, an impressive achievement for any book. This is definitely one of the reasons to stick with the Doctor Who novels even though the television series has taken over a lot of their primacy in the greater narrative; it's worth sticking with them because every once in a while, they give you a novel like this.