Forever Autumn.

TV It must be really difficult writing a good Doctor Who story, truly one of the hardest jobs in the freelance franchise fiction market. As well as deciding upon a good idea or plot, the author or writer then has to inject whichever Doctor or companion is currently incumbent into the mix and then has to keep in mind forty-odd years worth of continuity and the knowledge of the fan mass who are just waiting to say ‘But isn’t that just a rip-off of The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve?’ and beyond that the genre community just waiting to note that Joss Whedon or earlier Nigel Kneale or even early than that HG Wells got there first.

Under those circumstances it possible to cut Mark Morris’s Forever Autumn some slack (as one of his characters might say), even though it has to be said it’s certainly the weakest of the September book releases. Morris gives himself a particular uphill struggle by experimenting in the tricky area of teenage horror and should be applauded for at least trying to dilute the gene pool. The problem is that at its heart it’s nothing new and instead another case of the Doctor being drawn to Earth because of some strange energy being generated by an ancient race who seem to have influenced Earth’s own mythology and who are at war with some other species that has already appeared in the series and whose identity he deduces after running around for about a hundred or so pages leading to another hundred or so pages of running around before a deus-ex-machina finale, you wonder if the allotted 244 pages is too long.

There are some positives. The story is set during Halloween in the Capraesque New England small town of Blackwood Falls and as a green mist descends on main street there is a palpable atmosphere of dread and throughout there is a clear sense of something not being quite right in between the picket fences. The book doesn’t lack for pace and Morris at least captures the Doctor and Martha partnership pretty sharply and only sometimes does the Time Lord’s characterization become a bit too exuberant and lacking shade, his rants dragging in pointless continuity which detracts from the story at hand -- that sort of thing tends to be done far more obliquely on screen than here. The inevitable aliens are well defined too and there is a certain creep factor even if the image presented is somewhat like the main character from a certain animated musical adventure from Tim Burton.

But this over familiarity ultimately leads to the books undoing. Although many of the images and story points are new to the Whoniverse they’ve already appeared in other series and stories to the point of cliché. So no matter how well Morris has written some of the ensuing business, the reader is somewhat ahead of him -- I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that he’s not afraid to let loose a killer clown. I’m sure, like Charley from Big Brother, there are many kids who find clowns just a bit creepy but its appearance here just seems to lack imagination; when later in the book the Halloween celebration turns sour and the costumes become more real than they should be, it’s not hard to note Whedon did indeed get there first. It’s frustrating that for all his talent, Morris is unfortunately dogged by the reader’s foreknowledge of the genre he’s set the book in.

Your enjoyment of the book will also be impacted by your reaction to the depiction of the US found in Daleks In Manhattan as those cliché’s also extend to the rendering of this town and its folk. The three kids who trigger the alien menace and Martha meet are particularly annoying, speaking in the kind of US teen speak which disgraces the worse of Nickelodeon’s output, all ‘Hey, you guys!’ and ‘How’s it going?’ almost as though there’s a moratorium on giving them something witty to say -- The Lost Boys and The Goonies may have been influences but in those films, the dialogue is cute. Here, apart from a scene in which one of the boys brings Martha home to meet mother, the book tends to slow down when they appear which is shame because half of the plot is in their hands. In fact most of the town is in this vein, none of characters are that sympathetic. There is an old doctor who’s seen better days and an old woman that’s tuned into the alien threat, but none of them have the instant likeability of the colonists in the other two books.

In the end, the book's likeability is weakened by a range of tiny niggles which all of which stop the reader from becoming totally engrossed. It never quite lives up to the title -- imagine if the time travellers had visited a place of perpetual fall and the thematic implications of that. Most of the pop culture properties you’d expect to be mentioned are present and correct and a couple which seem slightly out of place in a book which might be read by youngsters -- do they really need to be introduced to 18-certificated torture porn so early in life? There’s quite a nice passage during which Martha contemplates calling her sister Tish but then realises that she shouldn’t because it could disrupt the time line -- but it doesn’t contribute to the overall story and in being one of the few really interesting moments overshadows much of what’s around it.

The climax is a final kick in the teeth, the kind of Fanthorpian leap to success which has dogged the new series and fans appreciation thereof from the start -- so in that way the book certainly fulfills the brief of mimicking its broadcast cousin. But the conclusion overall lacks urgency -- after underlining how incredibly powerful the foe is and how whatever it is their doing will devastate the town, the time team decide to enjoy the delights of the Halloween Fair where the lair is situated, just long enough for the Doctor to win Martha a giant stuffed animal. Oh and to randomly imply that the Gungans from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace are a real alien race in the Whoniverse, which, unfortunately, turns out by far to be the most horrific thing in the entire novel.

Forever Autumn, by Mark Morris, is released by BBC Books on 6 September. ISBN 9781846072703

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