Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock review

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Review Andrew Blair 21 Nov 2013 - 10:30

Neil Gaiman perfectly captures the voices of Eleven and Amy in his super-scary Doctor Who short, Nothing O'Clock...

This review contains spoilers.

Some people were holding out for J.K. Rowling being the final author of this book series (the collected paperback edition is out today), or were disappointed when a writer who had already written for the TV series was announced. Likewise, some people were hoping for a person of colour or a woman to be the Twelfth Doctor. However, in both cases there is a strong argument in the incumbent's favour: they're Neil Gaiman and Peter Capaldi. That's at least a little bit exciting, surely?

Gaiman now has the chance, albeit with a limited page count, to ignore the budgetary constraints of the TV show and write the most expensive Doctor Who story he can think of. He does not. Instead, he goes for a small town in 1984, and a timeless void. True, there are some hugely pleasing continuity references in there, but Nothing O'Clock does not feel like it is striving to be a huge addition to the lore.

Given that he has form with The Doctor's Wife, it's not a surprise that Gaiman writes the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond credibly well (especially Amy, and especially her motivations). Considering one chapter is almost just those two trading exposition, it flies by with the voices of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan captured perfectly. The Time Lords, however, are quite bad at capturing things perfectly. They were complacent with the Daleks, and also with Gaiman's creation for this story: the Kin.

The Kin are, like a lot of The Doctor's Wife, visually creatures of fantasy tropes who appear to fit in with Gaiman's reputation as a purveyor of gothic imagery juxtaposed with real-world scenarios. However, as with The Doctor's Wife, there's also a really good Science-Fiction explanation of the kind that Barry Letts might smile at (He probably would not be so pleased by the fate of young Polly Browning though). Terrance Dicks would, I assume, also nod appreciatively at the Kin's method of conquering the Earth, which is both horrible and incredibly cheap to realise on television.

On the downside, there are a few moments which remain undeveloped, most notably the reasoning behind the fur growing on the ceiling, which seems to be there just for an unexplained pun. The empty TARDIS also moves without explanation (though, admittedly, it could have been physically carried). These little moments suggest the sound of deadlines rushing past, or word limits being brushed up against. As with Nightmare in Silver, time is part of the problem when writing something as idea-driven as Doctor Who (and there are some very good ideas here). Possibly this served as an inspiration for the Kin's modus operandi? As it is, prose works better for Gaiman's Doctor Who than telly, but the reality of deadlines means that even a full-length original novel might occasionally suffer from these blips.

However, they are blips. Some people might find them developing into niggles which in turn bloom into disappointments, but this is a story that balances satisfying pseudo-scientific explanations with something Gaiman really wanted to do: scare people. The Kin are unnerving. For some, they might be downright terrifying. I suppose it depends on how willing you are to reap what you sow if you choose to read this to your child as a bedtime story, as that's really the tone I get from Nothing O'Clock: the sense of a spoken story that got out of hand. In this case, it's a good thing.

Now, let's see if someone can persuade Gaiman to write a Doctor Who comic...

Read Andrew's review of the previous story in the series, Derek Landy's The Mystery Of The Haunted Cottage, here.

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