Doctor Who: The Death Pit review

A new series of Doctor Who ebooks kicks off with A.L. Kennedy's The Death Pit.

The Doctor Who ebook range continues with this new series – Time Trips – led by this entry from Scottish literary author A.L. Kennedy. We’re going to be seeing short stories set across multiple incarnations from a variety of authors, including Joanne Harris, Jenny Colgan, Nick Harkaway, Trudi Canavan, Jake Arnott, and Cecilia Aherne. So, there’s an interesting range for you. Allow me to slightly undermine any excitement you may feel by informing you that this first story is not good.

Kennedy’s tale begins with a very Doctor Who clash between horror and comedy, a grotesque but scientifically-detailed death sequence written in child-like and child-friendly prose. You can tell Kennedy has read one or two Target novels in her time (and drops in references to The Invasion of Time and Delta and the Bannermen just for good measure). Occasionally, however, sentences get overlong. The whimsy can be trying, but can also result in delightful passages including a description of the Doctor’s smell. While Kennedy hasn’t quite got the Fourth Doctor’s voice nailed – generic Doctor seems to have moved towards a hybrid of Ten and Eleven now – she certainly knows how to evoke him physically by description.

Set after The Deadly Assassin the solo Fourth Doctor arrives at the Fetch Golf and Spa resort in Arbroath – the sort of place where people pay for rounds with £100 notes – and teams up with the bored, inquisitive receptionist, Bryony. They hang aroudn being whimsical for a bit, and then meet someone being attacked by an alien. The Death Pit is vey much in the mould of a Russell T. Davies’ style series opener, with a new companion figure introduced on Earth and an alien incursion into somewhere recognisable. It is, however, slight in terms of plot and lacks excitement or incisive characterisation to make up for it. While Kennedy does bring in some nice turns of phrase, there are some odd choices. The threat doesn’t really cohere until about two-thirds of the way through, for example.

Julia Fetch, an old woman who lives in a cottage on the grounds, doesn’t meet any of the other characters, and is there purely to add a level of foreboding which is already present and isn’t matched by the eventual monster reveal. The middle section has a lot of expositionary dialogue, whereas the explanation of the entirety of the events is rushed towards the end. While Julia is a nice character, her lack of involvement in the rest of the narrative makes her superfluous, reducing the space available to make the final confrontation scene seem more tense. As it reads, it’s merely quite a pat ’emotions save the day’ ending with no sense of suspense.

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The characters also seem like they might be revisited in the Time Trips series, or perhaps this is just because the rushed ending feels like they lack closure. That would be an interesting idea for this ebook series, certainly, though I can’t help but feel disappointed with this opener. It merely proves that no matter how skilled a writer you are, Doctor Who is a difficult thing to get right. Still, if you’re of the opinion that new series episodes should receive Target-style novelisations, this is the nearest you’re likely to get in the meantime.

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2 out of 5