Wetworld.

Books Fans of the website Cute Overload will love Mark Michalowski's Wetworld. The main alien species in attendance are otters -- and as they scurry about mazes, stand on their hind legs, make squee-like noises (obviously still haven't gotten over watching Utopia yet), dance, form armies and bring about revolutions it's impossible to read about them without thinking 'Aaaaah!' like a big girl's blouse even as they're also sometimes contemplating murder. It's the kind of thing which would be an utter nightmare to bring to the screen -- cue producer Phil Collinson on the podcast commentary trying to explain how the programme budget for the entire series was spent by The Mill rendering hundreds of bits of fur in this one story.

After a neat exchange in the console room subtlety recalling Sarah-Jane's departure from The Hand of Fear, the TARDIS accidentally lands on the planet Sunday, the sopping globe of the title and it's not long before the Doctor and Martha are separated, the timelord gets mixed up with a group of colonists dealing with the after effects of a devastating flood and the human comes into contact with the aforementioned otters and the novel's slimy main antagonist. Arguably in these opening sections that the author gets slightly bogged down with describing the environment at the expense of plot, but admittedly this pays dividends in the unpredictable finale.

The rest of the book balances across the tight-rope of telling a good Doctor Who story and including just too many familiar elements and broadly succeeds. To describe said familiar elements would rather give too much away in what is in the end a reasonably straightforward tale, but Michalowski is clever enough to refer to the influences as Martha realizes that that the Doctor is constantly drawing upon of all of his past experiences and that repetition as well as diversity is one of the miracles of the universe.

There's also a Reithian streaker dashing through the book, with mini-history lessons here and there, a whole line of dialogue in Morse Code that is never fully explained (which should have some readers googling for an explanation) and an ecological message as both the humans and their foe are demonstratively impacting on their environment and taking advantage of its natural resources in different ways. It's never preachy though -- the Doctor voices his concerns but the colonists put their opinions across just as forcefully and even the otters offer their ideas but none are held up as being an absolute truth and despite some gruesome passages few of them meet the usual sticky ends that characters in Doctor Who stories tend to when their moral code even marginally disagrees with the Doctor's.

It helps that the colonists are generally sympathetically described and, for once, a group we can truly care about. There's Candy Kane, originally named Candice by the kind of socially unaware parents some kids reading might be cursing, trying to mark out territory beyond her nickname. Colony head Pallister, who despite being something of a mustache twirler clearly still has the colonists best interests at heart and Ty the local zoologist (every colony should have one) who generates some real chemistry with the Doctor leading to a brim full of jealousy from Martha still clearly besotted with the timelord.

Mentions of incidents in 42 and The Family of Blood suggest Wetworld happens around the time of Blink, and the loyalty between the travellers confirms it. It's the clear they work best when they're together, Martha pulling the Doctor's wilder tenancies into focus. Most of the best scenes in the book are when the Doctor is interrogating and investigating and using humour to get the most of the temporary team which develops to solve the problem at hand. This is also one of the few occasions when Martha develops beyond the generic companion she can sometimes seem to be in other spin-off fiction. The elements of wit which Freema capitalised upon later in the third series are all present and correct.

Ultimately, Michalowski's knack with characterization and clever staging of the action sequences overcomes the slow first half and some of the more ordinary story material; his florid style brilliantly ties the story together and contains glimpses of the kind of whimsey Douglas Adams would be proud of. Example: 'In silence they waited. And waited. And just for good measure, they waited a bit more. 'Maybe it's still falling.' Martha ventured.' 'Maybe it is.' 'So they waited just a bit more.' The author understands that the target audience for the book likes to have a story told rather than described to them and Wetworld will work well in the inevitable audio book.

Wetworld, by Mark Michalowski, is released by BBC Books on 6 September. ISBN 9781846072710.

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