Doctor Who: A Handful of Stardust review
Could A Handful of Stardust be the best of the Time Trips ebooks to date? Here's Andrew's review...
This review contains spoilers.
Jake Arnott – of The Long Firm and He Kills Coppers fame – brings together the Sixth Doctor, Peri, and John Dee in the most fun adventure the Time Trips range has seen.
This is a romp, a colourful and deliberately Ye Olde Speaky one at that. You can practically hear The Devil's Gallop playing between chapters. It feels like the Sixth Doctor and Peri have found themselves in a Tenth Doctor pseudo-historical, smuggling in educational tidbits amongst the tales of doomed races, heretical astronomy and evil men with goatees.
As is traditional, the Master's plan could've worked perfectly if he hadn't got the Doctor involved. He could've just helped himself to the necessary equipment and sodded off without attracting any attention. Unusually, he hasn't bothered with an elaborate disguise, and his insane plan involves a massive overhaul of the established timeline. Instead, he just seems to be having a good time being gleefully sadistic.
If this was a new villain, it'd be underwhelming; as it's a well-realised Ainley Master (complete with Temporal Schism reference), it feels quite fitting. While he's hoist by his own petard (he really needs to get a new one) he does have a deliciously malicious time here, inflicting cruelty both physical and psychological. The only grumble – and it is very much a pedantic fan grumble – is that he keeps calling Peri ‘Peri’, rather than ‘Miss Brown’.
Peri is asking exposition questions a fair bit, but this comes from her position as a student rather than merely being a contrivance. As was often the case on telly, she is lusted over by a guest character but Arnott is smarter than usual in this respect. It’s an initially awkward, then degradingly base (deliberately, and not titillatingly so), and finally rather sweet relationship she has with John Dee’s companion Thomas Digges.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has John Dee for a companion during much of the story. It’s similar to his relationship with Herbert in Timelash, but on a much more even footing. Dee is very good at asking annoying questions, and while the Doctor’s dialogue is perhaps a bit more Third than Sixth, their repartee is entertaining and goes off on enjoyable tangents.
Apart from Sixie's description of his Fifth incarnation as 'tediously sure of myself', which you have to interprate as a total lack of self-awareness for it to work, the brash, verbose and overconfident nature of the Sixth Doctor is captured very well by Arnott, as are his moments of quiet reflection.
The plot is ideal for a story of this length, simple enough to support the adventure, and not sufficiently complex to require a rushed conclusion or overlong bouts of exposition. Some of the moral questions raised are interesting ones too, and the Doctor’s solution feels at home in the Saward era, where the character’s heroism was called into question.
All in all, it’s a confident, fun and knowing story with depth, and is by far the most successful of the range thus far.
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