Doctor Who: Spore review

Alex Scarrow's Eighth Doctor adventure, Spore, is a brisk, undemanding read. Here's Andrew's review...

So far in this range of eBooks I’ve enjoyed the more atypical stories, the ones that feel novel rather than evocative of something I’ve already seen on television. Spore does not feel like a Doctor Who story in many respects. Instead, it has a decidedly American Science-Fiction flavour. You can picture the Doctor being replaced by Mulder in this story quite easily.

Alex Scarrow – most famous for his TimeRiders series, but also a designer on Ultimate Soccer Manager (a brilliant game where you could take bungs and place bets on your own team) – seems an obvious choice as an author, but avoids covering similar ground to that range here.

Set Thor-ishly in a small New Mexico town, Spore tells the story of a deadly pathogen that could potentially wipe out humanity in a matter of weeks. Its main strength is the concept and the horror that ensues when the titular spore lands. The TV show doesn’t go in for fungal plague or possession (for example, while Love and War‘s Hoothi remain memorable, they’re perhaps difficult to realise on telly without giving everyone the boak). Spore is unfilmable for a family show. 

The depiction of an entire town being turned into viscous black soup as all organic matter is destroyed is gruesome and graphic. Yet, at the end, there is some interaction between the Doctor and the pathogen which gives it some character, and its back story is interesting and well-constructed. Unfortunately, this means quite a lot of the short story is exposition heavy and the resolution feels too simple. There are a lot of easy solutions that have been set up at length, so it isn’t a novel packed with revelation.

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Character wise, there are only four speaking roles, and three of those are soldiers investigating the pathogen. They’re somewhat utilitarian, none of them really have enough time to make an impact or be especially distinctive, even ersatz companion Evelyn Chan. Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor is an interesting one. Scarrow’s depiction of him is different to any of the various iterations (TV Movie, Big Finish, BBC Books, Doctor Who Magazine comic strip) of the incarnation, as the author has stated that he liked the blank slate element offered. As a result, we get a new – if somewhat generic take – on the Doctor. Some lines do shine through as feeling right and proper, but it feels somewhat closer to the Fourth Doctor than the Eighth.

Ultimately, Spore‘s simplicity renders it a brisk, undemanding read that demands a suspension of your inner fan more than most. Imagine it as a potential episode of an alternative universe’s popular FOX series of Doctor Who, and it’s an interesting snapshot of what might have been. It doesn’t feel like an Eighth Doctor story based on what we have so far, and that’s certainly a good thing.

Considering the essence of the show is exploration, this range has been doing some interesting work with regards to expanding the situations and styles that Doctor Who can use. Hopefully that’ll feed back into other adventures in other mediums.

Read Andrew’s review of the previous Puffin ebook in the series, Malorie Blackman’s The Ripple Effect, here.

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3 out of 5