This review contains spoilers.
Reading Nick Harkaway’s entry in to the Time Trips series led me to two main conclusions. Firstly, reading this will enhance your knowledge of adjectives. Secondly, since 2005, prose Doctor Who has had an increasing problem with its deployment of whimsy.
Keeping Up With the Joneses takes elements that we’ve seen on television and twists them into new shapes. The plot, while comprised of familiar elements, is at least imaginative in its combinations. A downside would be that it requires a hefty does of exposition at the finale stage, so while the story is an intriguing runaround (and, being set largely inside the Doctor’s ship, is also a more interesting proposition than Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS).
Besides deploying a lot of Science-Fiction jargon, Harkaway takes the Tenth Doctor’s fast-paced problem solving monologues and turns them into a breakneck internal monologue. There’s also a surprise return for a one-off companion, much less irritating than their deployment on television. Overall the story drags on occasion and lacks in spark. It does have a thoughtful take on existing concepts, but perhaps not enough to distinguish itself.
However, it struck me that at times the whimsy in the prose is cloying, and that this has been a recurring feature in Doctor Who since the TV show returned. While it generally works for the television Doctor to go off on tangents and speak faster than he’s thinking, there is a habit in prose of overdoing it (which the Time Trips series has been guilty of more than the 50th anniversary ebooks).
Combining dialogue with internal monologue means we have an abundance of contrived whimsy, which is harder to pull off than it looks. While it means we get some good gags – as is the case here- they’re the minority. It also makes characterising individual Doctors harder if they’re all blathering on in the same way – like someone is trying to write a Douglas Adams character based only on a half-heard oral description. Of the three Time Trips writers, Jenny Colgan’s prose seems closest to her usual style, but even that comes with more asides than normal.
It’s as if it has been decided that this is what Doctor Who prose fiction must be like by silent consensus, and if this is what people think that it should be, it’s not only depressing but severely limiting. Not many authors can make this approach work, and it neuters their storytelling. Hopefully Trudi Canavan’s Third Doctor ebook will be more tonally confident.
Considered on its own merits, this is another throwaway tale with potential, let down by its delivery – half overbearing, half underplayed – which leaves you appreciating its cleverness while simultaneously being underwhelmed by its conveyance.
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