Doctor Who: The Krillitane Storm book review

Matt Barber checks out the latest Doctor Who novel, which sees the return of the Krillitane, last seen in School Reunion...

The Krillitane Storm sees the return of the creature last seen in season two’s School Reunion. While on screen they were eclipsed by the return of Sarah Jane Smith and K9, in Christopher Cooper’s novel they are central to the plot.

The Doctor arrives in twelfth century Worcester during what I like to think of as the ‘Brother Cadfael’ civil war. He quickly discovers mysterious goings on involving a curfew and the disappearance of random peasantry. His investigations uncover a complex, busy plot involving a bunch of alien scientists posing as Cathedral dignitaries, a hypnotised Sherriff, a pack of rogue Krillitanes incarcerated in the crypt, a super-advanced (or should that be degenerate) ‘special-weapons’ Krillitane, a delegation of various aliens competing to buy the Krillitane secret to extreme evolution and a bounty-hunter’s daughter out for revenge… and breathe…

A medieval setting for a Doctor Who story is welcome and rare. On television, pre-1500 England has only occasionally been a setting for an adventure, possibly because of restricted budgets and the danger, as The Time Warrior demonstrated, of slipping into ye-olde knights quaffing mead in a castle.

The Krillitane Storm does include knights in a castle, but the setting of Worcester rather than an anonymous town or city gives the story a degree of realism. Reading it, you can sense the amount of research done, although scenes of the Doctor running around Worcester Cathedral did feel a little like the author had done a guided tour and then endeavoured to include as much of the building as possible. The town comes to life as a location for the alien invasions and adds to the creepy atmosphere of the story.

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I would suggest that while the setting complements the tone of the story, the complexity of the plot means that the medieval aspects are pushed to the background. Cooper does include locals in his story, notably Captain Darke, one of the Doctor’s temporary companions, but these characters feel secondary to the story, almost as if there was a previous draft with more historical detail that was edited out. This is a shame. While Cooper’s novel, at times, uses the medieval perspective to offer a fresh look at the alien skulduggery, it is all too rare.

The Doctor’s second companion, wannabe bounty hunter Emily, occupies a greater amount of the story, but observes the goings-on with a more cynical, more Doctor-ish eye. This feels a little like a lost opportunity.To use or even to challenge the myth of the innocence of the medieval mind would have made an interesting contrast to the greedy, avaricious aliens. I guess this may have required the novel to be double its length, but I can’t help thinking that somewhere out there, a Doctor Who story is waiting to be told that fully engages with the beauty and complexity of this setting.

A highlight of this book has to be Cooper’s approach to the Krillitanes. On screen they were somewhat one-dimensional, with only Anthony Head’s sinister performance preventing them from being just another BEM for the Doctor to fight.

In The Krillitane Storm, Cooper depicts them as individuals, frequently narrating the story from their perspectives, reminiscent of Malcolm Hulke’s approach to the Silurians in the Target novelisation Doctor Who And The Cave Monsters. To this end, the monsters become realistic victims of the main antagonist, alien entrepreneur Henk.

Cooper succeeds at this to such a degree that the reader is able to feel sympathy with the Krillitane alongside the Doctor as the novel reaches its climax.

The Doctor’s companions are well drawn and believable. Emily is made enigmatic by having a background that is kept from the reader for much of the novel, but when it is revealed it serves to lend emotional weight to her actions. Darke is a little under-depicted, serving as an innocent sounding board for the Doctor’s rapid and frequent info-dumps. His willingness to support the Doctor despite the madness and devilry surrounding him is very much a part of the Russell T Davies mode of optimism.

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Indeed, all the human characters are presented in this light, although as I have said, all are eclipsed by the pace and complexity of the events that take place around them.

This is the only weakness of the novel for me.There are so many characters and so many layers of plot, and the pacing is so fast (as is the style of these books) that the reader is only able to get a brief glimpse of the period setting. It’s almost like a précis of a longer, more detailed novel.

That being said, I enjoyed what I read and felt that Cooper’s tight structure and ability to depict the Krillitane in a realistic emotional light were real achievements. Within the confines and strictures of this series of books, Cooper has managed to present something fresh, and something that builds upon, rather than something that attempts to replicate what has been seen on screen.

I’d give this novel three stars, but I’d give the full, uncut version that I like to imagine waiting out there more credit.

Doctor Who: The Krillitane Storm is out now.

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3 out of 5