Of all the things you might want to do in the Universe, apparently bumping into the Schirr is NOT one of them. After all, Schirr are nasty, body-snatching creatures hell bent on the destruction of the human race, permanently at war with Earth’s far-flung outposts. At least that’s what the human’s elite Anti-Terrorists forces believe. But the First Doctor – Dr. Who, that is --- and his companions Ben and Polly are not completely convinced. That’s the confusing landscape into which the reader is dropped in the first of the Dr. Who 50th Anniversary Edition novels, Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole.
The TARDIS lands First Doctor, Polly and Ben in the 30th Century, on an asteroid that appears to be the final resting place of 10 alien corpses, who just happen to be the most wanted criminals in the known universe – a Schirr terrorist known as DeCaster and some of his followers. The TARDIS crew is surprised by a group of cadets from an elite anti-terrorist military academy who have arrived at the planetoid for military exercises, along with their training instructors, Haunt (a female veteran of the Schirr wars) and her assistant, Shel. First Doctor begins to suspect a trap when half the asteroid splits off, taking the cadets’ ship with it. With the TARDIS mysteriously locked, the group is cut off from the Universe.
And then cadets and corpses begin to go missing in pairs. And did I mention the creepy little cherub statues scattered about the asteroid? One of the party must be responsible for the disappearances – which turn out to be murders. Is this beginning to sound a bit familiar?
I love classic mysteries. And I love Dr. Who. So the idea of reviewing a Dr. Who homage novel based on Agatha Christie’s classic Ten Little Indians (perhaps better known in the US as And Then There Were None) was pretty irresistible. And I wasn’t disappointed.
But I will admit that I was confused at times. The sci-fi gadgets and pyrotechnics muddied the narrative waters for me. I felt like I had to spend a lot of time figuring out what was actually going on in the futuristic physical world. Maybe this was meant to put me in the place of Ben and Polly? I did admire the author’s attempt to provide multiple viewpoints for the same events, without giving the reader an idea of which of the narrators was reliable. But the narrator transitions were accompanied by all kinds of directions that were distracting, and interfered with the flow of the book for me.
Cole’s novel definitely reflects its early 20th century British origins, which means there’s a good bit of post-colonial angst. Shade, one of the cadets, is notable for his Earth-born origins – he’s in turns respected and reviled for his unique position. There’s also a politically correct spin on the old “terrorists vs. freedom fighters” question that is pretty interesting. But the subtexts were only revealed in bits and pieces, and some of them were never fully explained, so at some points I thought the backstory actually detracted from what was in fact a really interesting Who adventure.
Still, for all its “fan-fiction” flaws – and all my fan quibbling – this was a fun book. Like the television series, it required attention to detail. Adding First Doctor and companions to the Christie set-up was a neat creative twist, despite the unevenness in the narration that the addition entailed. Who fans will definitely love this book. I can’t say the same natural affinity exists for Christie fans, because the mystery element really takes a back seat to the sci-fi. But the combination was really fun for me!
I read this book as part of a TLC book tour, and received a free copy of the book – and a companion volume, Whoology -- in return for my honest opinion. Thanks, Lisa, for including me on the tour. For other opinions on this book – and all the books in the anniversary series – follow the links here.