This review contains spoilers.
Skullduggery Pleasant author Derek Landy asked, according to interviews, for either the Tenth or Eleventh Doctors for his short story, because he favours fast-paced dialogue. He got the Tenth, as apparently someone had already claimed the Eleventh (or he was reserved for them), and although The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage is the funniest of this series by far, sometimes it feels like he’s writing for the wrong Doctor.
There are still plenty of Ten’s mannerisms; his arrogance, his cruel wit (he laughs at an old lady falling off her bike. Twice) and his lack of self-awareness, but when it comes to the stream of conscious tangents and speech-patterns, there are huge dollops of Matt Smith’s Doctor in there. If anything, it highlights the fact that, while there is overlap in their gift of the gab, the two most recent Doctors do have important differences in their rat-a-tat-tat dialogue.
Martha Jones is consistent with her on-screen persona, though. She gets to be in awe of the Doctor, slightly crushed by his aloofness at times, but also gets plenty more sarcastic one-liners than she got on screen. It makes her seem stronger than she sometimes did on screen, and although the sheer force of the Doctor’s personality overshadows her, she’s a very plausible, relatable character here.
In terms of the story, Landy himself has confessed that he liked the idea so much that he wrote it before the premise was officially accepted, and so had to go back in and insert the paragraphs that explain it being conceptually similar to The Mind Robber. There are some less obvious references though, including for a couple of Big Finish plays and the foreshadowing of the series three finale.
Set in a lacklustre children’s book that Martha loved as a child, Landy has tremendous fun celebrating and criticising nostalgia-inducing children’s fiction of yesteryear. It’s a kind of aggressive pastiche of half-baked Enid Blyton-isms that comments on the artifice and contrivances of writing. There is, if you’re into that sort of thing, a small section that asks some interesting philosophical questions about the nature of fiction and the viewer’s relationship with it. If you’re not into that sort of thing, there’s a bit where the Doctor punches Dracula.
Wrapped up quickly and efficiently, the finale sees the Doctor dealing with the story’s villain both harshly and enigmatically. It’s left deliberately vague as to whether or not it survives in some form. It feels as though Landy could’ve gone on having fun with meta-fiction for a while longer, and is almost sulkily putting his toys back in the box after playing with them.
Despite these minor flaws, it’s a hugely enjoyable read, even if it’s a shame that Doctor Who storytelling means that Landy has to explain it. Witty, inventive, and with some great literary references, it’s not a hugely surprising narrative, but it is a lot of fun.
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