This review contains spoilers.
Jenny Colgan’s second Doctor Who story features the Eleventh Doctor and Clara investigating an unknown, peril-laden planet. The second of the new Time Trips series (a tautological title, especially given the series it’s attached to) scores highly in terms of characterisation, does moderately well in terms of originality, but the story logic doesn’t quite hold together.
The Doctor and Clara are the only speaking characters for the majority of the story, exploring a dangerous unnamed planet of which there is no mention of in any guidebook. Their interactions are well crafted and observed. For the most part, Colgan captures Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman’s deliveries accurately, and the Doctor in particular gets some great one-liners (including a very good reason to visit Croydon). Clara does occasionally get given dialogue that doesn’t appear to correspond to anything that’s happening though.
Their journey brings to mind some of the original run’s desolate traipsing, combining quarries, forests and maggots before arriving at a castle of bones. While the Doctor and Clara’s various perils aren’t totally original, the combinations are, and the solution to one of them is ingenious while also foreshadowing later events. Clara also gets some welcome and interesting character development, with prose ideally suited to conveying it. The first half of Into the Nowhere works well, bombarding the Doctor and Clara with danger before they arrive at the crux of the mystery.
Colgan comes up for a great science-fiction explanation for walking skeletons, but then gives them another twist which relies on fantasy magic and the ever popular ‘Love saves the day’ to work, and the combination is jarring. It’s quite an important twist for the ending to work, and so if you don’t buy it then the rest of the book is flawed. The ideas here come thick and dizzyingly fast: a grotesque villain, a forgotten past mistake, and then a lot of Biblical imagery. After an itinerary of available materials is taken, it’s fairly obvious how things are going to end.
While most questions are answered by the end of the story, a few aren’t. The secret of the planet feels like a great idea, but it begs questions the story doesn’t even try to answer. Part of the reason for its secrecy comes from foolish mistakes from people or organisations you’d be forgiven for expecting better of. For example: why is the villain there on his own? Idiocy due to narrative necessity is rarely good.
As a result, Into the Nowhere is a mixed bag. There’s a lot to enjoy here despite the disappointing ending. Fans of the Eleventh Doctor will enjoy his depiction, and getting into Clara’s head is an interesting experience. However, an unsatisfying resolution hinders the story, as do its loose ends.
One thing it does confirm, completely and utterly, is that the Shadow Proclamation are utterly useless. What does their name even mean?
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