Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: Doctor Who - The Crawling Terror

Review: Doctor Who - The Crawling Terror I'll be honest--I very nearly left this review as just the word, "Functional". Because that's all 'The Crawling Terror' is. It's a story that manages to tick off the requisite boxes in the "Doctor Who story" checklist and doesn't fail too hard at any of them. It's a book that achieves the goal of not irritating you, and nothing more. Which, given that it's being compared to the whirling fireworks of unpredictable creativity seen in the televised version, means that it actually fails very badly indeed.

In many ways, this is exactly the book for someone who thinks that the TV show is too unpredictable, because it couldn't be trying harder to be a "classic" Doctor Who story. The Doctor and his companion land in a quiet English village (tick!) where a mysterious, disfigured scientist (tick!) has been conducting strange experiments at his newfangled lab that the locals distrust (tick!). The experiments unleash monsters (in this case, giant insects--tick!) that mentally enslave the locals into doing their bidding (tick!) and it turns out that aliens were behind the whole thing and the evil scientist is collaborating with them (tick!). The monsters isolate the village from the outside world (tick!), with only a token heroic military presence just outside who is out of their depth when dealing with monsters but struggles on nonetheless (at this point, you can just go ahead and tick all remaining boxes on the list. If you made a Doctor Who Bingo game, this would be the blackout card.)

This isn't to say that you can't do anything with the classic Doctor Who tropes--Mark Gatiss is a hardcore traditionalist, and he makes his stories work by executing the tropes well and occasionally playing with them a bit. But here, everything is simply a sketch of things that were done better elsewhere. The Doctor is utterly generic, with none of the acerbic wit that marks Capaldi's performances, and Clara hits the beats in her story bible and nothing more. The supporting characters are caricatures, both the good and the bad, and the monsters are just big angry bugs of one sort or another. There's nothing to make this book stand out anywhere.

But even that isn't what makes 'The Crawling Terror' so frustrating. It's a bland, inoffensive TV tie-in novel pitched to tweens and teens, no different from many others on the market. It isn't bad, it isn't good, it's just a quick way to pass an hour or so before you move on to anothr book. That's what you get with Mike Tucker.

What's frustrating is that they knew they'd be getting that with Mike Tucker, and they commissioned him for this slot anyway. We've been getting fewer and fewer novels ever since the TV series restarted; why on Earth would you spend one of those precious slots on a bland timewaster when there are so many good Doctor Who writers out there? Why not slot in someone like Kate Orman, who can write a better novel than this while trapped in a safe underwater? Why not slot in some of the recent good writers that have done excellent Eleventh Doctor books, like Oli Smith, or Una McCormack, or Naomi Alderman? Even if you assume that they can't try an untested writer for the first few slots of the new Doctor, due to secrecy concerns for upcoming plot developments, there are better people out there than this. There are people out there who would try, and 'The Crawling Terror' doesn't try. It's content simply to be a book about the Doctor, and we all know that the line is capable of so much more.

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