even though he’s apparently heard some of the Big Finish). Which sounds like a mean spirited way to start writing about what is a relatively short piece of writing, but like so many of these anniversary stories, it’s a missed opportunity.
The story is fine. It’ll be easiest if I quote it from the publicity: “In a small town in the Nevada desert, an alien pathogen has reduced the entire population to a seething mass of black slime. When the Eighth Doctor arrives, he realises this latest threat to humanity is horrifyingly familiar – it is a virus which almost annihilated his entire race, the Time Lords...” Scarrow has in mind some b-movie thrills on a Hollywood budget, in other words Outbreak, with the Lovecraftian elegancy of The Fog and given the character’s origins, to go big does sort of makes sense if the idea is to evoke the era even if as far as Scarrow’s concerned the character doesn’t really have one.
As the story progresses there is some really quite horrific business as to the implications of the pathogen work themselves out and the sense of hopelessness when one is faced with something outside of your control without an answer as to what it is. In that sense, this is the bleakest of all the plays and has a one-off companion to suit. With Captain Evelyn Chan, one of the team who’s been sent in to survey the problem, we have a figure who seems purposefully unheroic, who only exists to do the things human beings tend to do in extraordinary circumstances, panic and ask questions, lots and lots of questions.
If there’s a hole in the middle and think you know what I’m about to say, it’s where the Eighth Doctor should be. Now, the Eighth Doctor isn’t easy. In the olden days, for every Lance Parkin or Paul Magrs getting him right, there were countless others throwing together a generic Doctor hoping against hope that the reader wouldn’t notice. I do think Scarrow tries, but if this had another Doctor’s silhouette on the cover, I might have thought it was a bit off, but I wouldn’t necessarily have argued. There’s nothing to say McGann couldn’t say these lines, it’s just that the lines don’t sound like were written for him.
In other words, for the first prose Eighth Doctor story in a few years, we have a fairly generic Doctor walking through a fairly generic story. I didn't not like it but ... which is the worst thing you can say about anything. That’s a shame. There is one moment which might have had some impact if it hadn’t also essentially appeared in the last television series, though to be fair that does have a different and rather good pay-off even if the ensuing scenes don’t really ring true and don’t sound like something the Eighth Doctor would say at all. At least I don’t think so. But since the Logopolis Tom seems like he’d pretty much hate Robot Tom, it’s also worth nothing that characters change.
What would I have liked? Well, for a story published as part of an anniversary, something that acknowledges the character’s history written by someone who’s clearly a fan. It needn’t be full of back references, this is aimed at a younger audience after all, but it could still have been some sort of celebration in the same way the Third Doctor story, Marcus Sedgewick’s The Spear Of Destiny was. I’m guessing Alan Barnes’s the Destiny of the Doctor instalment is just that and I can’t wait to hear that when I reach that point in my #whowatch. Until then, roll on the Ninth Doctor and the news of whoever’s writing that.