I do not pretend to be the Who aficionado that is my colleague on DoG, Ethan Lewis. Ethan, I bow down to you in all knowledge and expertise of the Who-verse. However, I will make the small claim that I am a Whoodie (like a foodie, but instead of being – die about food, it’s about Doctor Who. Hey, the mashup sounded good in my head). Therefore, when the opportunity arose for me to review two Doctor Who books, I jumped at it, with many email squeaks and squeals.
The first of the books I devoured was Shroud of Sorrow, by Tommy Donbavand. Now, I have not read anything by Mr. Donbavand previously, but it seems that he is a prolific author of sci-fi/horror books for children. Among his titles are Zombie!, Wolf and Uniform.
Keeping in mind that Shroud of Sorrow is intended for a children’s audience, I kept all judgment of Shroud in check until I reached the very last page. Then I put the book aside, took a deep breath…and read it again.
In Shroud of Sorrow, the irrepressible Doctor and his new, intrepid assistant Clara barge into Dallas the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Jr. But there is something going on that is much more nefarious than the machinations of Lee Harvey Oswald. An off-planet evil is taking advantage of the city’s grief, feeding on people’s sorrow, plunging them into memories of darkness and pain until they are completely devoid of anything human…or dead. And the force is spreading, looking to grow until it covers the entire Earth.
It is up to the Doctor and Clara to figure out what is causing this force, stop it, save the planet and, oh yeah, do a lot of running. Along the way, the two of them collect helpers in the form of a tired FBI agent, an intrepid reporter and an entire army of alien clowns.
To Donbavand’s credit, after a bit of a slow start, once the novel picks up the action it never lets up. It’s a race to the end and all of the plots and subplots are tied up very nicely and might I add, in an extremely satisfying and Whovian manner. Lessons learned about letting go, grief, happiness and what it means to be human are all imparted without sounding condescending. The Doctor also stays true to form and defeats his enemies not with violence, but with something as simple and profound as laughter.
While the story is excellently true to the Doctor Who genre and the way they are concluded also fits type, banter between The Doctor and Clara sometimes seems a bit forced. Yes, the Matt Smith Doctor is notoriously more spastic than any of the re-boot Doctors, but there’s being quirky and there’s going off on a tangent.
The relationship between Clara and The Doctor also seems a little strained, but it is to Donbavand’s credit that he chose to tackle that pair before they have even really been established on the show. Granted, I am not one of those who is overly fond of Clara (one might even say that she edges into Martha territory for me), but at the very least, it’s always nice for The Doctor to have a Companion to ground him. Clara in Shroud is brave, smart and can match The Doctor word for word, something which keeps him on his toes, but can be somewhat annoying to a viewer/reader. Hey, all I’m saying is if you want a female version of The Doctor why don’t you, oh, I don’t know, cast the next regeneration of The Doctor as a woman? Yes, I went there.
Sorry, I’ll get off this tangent.
The Doctor-Clara interaction aside, Donbavand does bring the gravitas of The Doctor into the story nicely. He understands that for all the quips and flippancy, the Doctor is an old, old being who has seen much, done more and felt deeper pain than (literally) the entire planet of Earth. (Though I do have to quibble that of all the sorrows referred to in this book that the Doctor went through, there’s no mention of Rose. But that’s just me).
The villain of the story is also classically Whovian and satisfyingly menacing. No, it is not a classic Who nemesis, but it’s nice to see The Doctor deal with an entity he’s never before encountered. Yes, it’s new even to the Doctor! You see him stumped, you see him wrong and you see him running around and around and around until he finally bursts upon a solution, with much help from his human assistants. Yep, Donbavand makes humanity look good in this tale, rising above danger to show great courage and always out to help one another. It’s a nice message for children, but it’s done in a way to inspire, not to provoke eye rolls and groans of, “can I please play Halo now?”
With lots of twists and turns, and even roadblock characters dealt with in a graceful and even sympathetic manner (a bumbling American General is put out of commission via a soporific in his drink, while allowing his pride to remain intact), Shroud of Sorrow is a nice addition to the Doctor Who canon. I would certainly recommend it as a read not only for Who fans, but for those new to the genre. The adventure itself does well as a stand-alone and with humor, warmth, bits of well-placed scares and plenty of excellent action, Shroud of Sorrow makes an excellent and satisfying read.
Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars