The Pirate Loop.

TV How’s this for timing? You wait years for an intergalactic luxury liner in peril and two come along at once. Luckily, it looks as though in each case the source of that peril is completely different. Well clearly. Whatever’s happening on the Titanic on Christmas Day can’t be as random as the journey the Starship Brilliant is on in here, what with being stuck in a time loop and being menaced by pirate badgers, the only way of travelling about the ship being to dive into something which feels almost but not exactly like scrambled egg. Welcome to the bizarre fantasy that is Simon Guerrier’s The Pirate Loop. Leave your preconceptions at the front cover.

The Doctor and Martha travel to the aforementioned ship to solve the mystery of why it disappeared. The timelord uncovers the truth disappointingly easily but then, as with some of the best Doctor Who stories, has to wrestle with his conscience as to whether he has the right to disrupt recorded history and save the lives of those onboard. It’s in the process of trying to warn the captain that they greet the aforesaid impediments as well as an aristocratic alien race, the Balumin, which Guerrier describes as looking like Mr. Tickle, which isn’t an easy image to ignore really. All of which makes it sound terribly exciting and surprising which it certainly is – but ultimately, despite some discrete moments of charm it doesn’t quite hang together.

The first problem is one which afflicts many of these novels – an over familiarity of ideas. Time loops and paradoxes have become the show’s stock in trades of late, particularly in this past series and certainly you shouldn’t knock anyone whose following in the footsteps of Steven Moffat. Indeed one of the best bits of the novel is right in the middle when the story cuts between the Doctor and Martha in two time periods, the actions of one echoing through to the other. Sadly the big surprise at the centre of that really doesn’t work if you look at it too closely and particularly in relation to Moffat’s work and the alternative might have been a bit more interesting.

The characters too, with the exception of a well interpreted Doctor and Martha, are all fairly irritating. Most of our time is spent in the company of the badgers, bred with the intellect of Forrest Gump to make them malleable and blessed with Home Counties accents which the author takes great pleasure in reproducing – the dialogue is apostrophe central. There is a sweet scene in which Martha explains to them how to eat canapés (no really) but in the end they’re about as appealing as the cavemen in The Tribe of Gum (or whatever it’s being called this decade) and will only work for those with a high tolerance for cutsiness

The Bulamin’s speaking representative is Mrs Wingsworth, essentially an ovoid Margot from The Good Life with extra arms. Again, there’s neat bit of dialogue between her and the Doctor about her low self-esteem (no really again) but other than that like the badgers she’s pretty two dimensional as are some human characters who eventually appear to do some shouting. It’s almost as though Guerrier has deliberately written them as cartoons with the intended audience in mind, but some of the characters in The Infinite Quest had more depth than this. Only the Ood-like mouthless engineers are effective and it’s a shame we don’t spend more time with them.

Despite all of that it’s not an unenjoyable read and sometimes quite ingenious. Guerrier has clearly structured his story in advance and details in the opening chapters pay off well in the end. The reader is always orientated within the ship and the use of analogies keep the readers totally aware of the environment mostly drawn from Martha’s Earthly experience. It’s Martha who probably comes off best in all of this, absolutely in-keeping with the television version with a range of contemporary references to everything from myspace to Facebook in her jacket pocket – something which the Doctor indulges in himself to good effect. But you know what in the end makes this worth reading? A single paragraph of introspection in which our hero ruminates on what would need to be done were he really to lose his companion. It’s perhaps the most powerful bits of writing about the lonely god since the bottom end of The Family of Blood.

The Pirate Loop, by Simon Guerrier, is released by BBC Books on 26 December. ISBN 9781846073472.

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