I am beginning to notice a trend with these books featuring the Thirteenth Doctor: I am liking them more than I liked a lot of the episodes in her first season. Perhaps it’s the fact that the novels have a bit more time to fully tell the stories they are wanting to tell. Perhaps it’s because these writers have an amazing grasp on these characters and the kinds of Doctor Who stories that work well in prose-form. Whatever the case, The Secret in Vault 13 is another excellent Doctor Who novel.
The Doctor has never faced a challenge quite like this.
A sinister school where graduation means death . . .
A monstrous mystery lurking beneath a quiet London street . . .
A desperate plea for help delivered by . . . Hang on. A potted plant?
The Doctor has been summoned. The galaxy is in terrible danger, and only a Time Lord can save it. But to do so, she must break into the ancient Galactic Seed Vault. And at its heart lies a secret: Vault 13. The Vault has remained unopened for millions of years and is located on a remote and frozen world–from which nobody has ever returned alive. . . .
Can the Doctor and her friends Yaz, Ryan, and Graham uncover the shocking secret in Vault 13?
The Secret in Vault 13 is an exciting, universe-spanning adventure. It starts out seeming like it’s going to be a story about the Doctor protecting this mysterious vault featuring a deadly seed, but it quickly morphs into a Keys of Marinus-style story where the Doctor and her companions have to go off to various points in the universe in order to find the three keys that can unlock the door to this mysterious vault. This book feels like it has two halves to it: the first half has to set up the story. It introduces the Gardeners (ancient creatures who maintain the plants in the universe and created the Vault – a vault that holds the seeds to every plant that ever existed) and the rebel Gardeners who want to access Vault 13 and use the Genesis seed to restart the universe. It has to introduce the Vault itself. And it has to introduce the main thrust for the second half of the novel: the hunt for the keys to Vault 13. Due to the very nature of having to introduce all of these elements, the first half of the novel is a bit slow. It’s never boring, per se, but it does take a while for things to really get interesting.
The second half of the novel is where things really shine. It’s clear that Solomons has a big imagination, and that imagination is perfectly suited for Doctor Who. The hunt-for-the-keys essentially gives us three short episodes of Doctor Who where the Doctor and her friends search for the keys. The first search takes us to a mysterious school on a crashed ship with a nightmarish Faculty. The second search takes us to contemporary London where Ryan and Graham discover a monstrous creature. And the third search takes us deep inside the TARDIS as Yaz has to navigate the telepathic circuits. Each one of these adventures would make for a great full-length story, but they’re utilized well in their shortened forms in this story, too. My favorite of them is Yaz’s adventure through the TARDIS telepathic circuits. There are some really dark scenes in that, and it gives us a really nice look into Yaz’s psyche – something that was missing from season 11 of the show. Plus, I just love stories that take us into the TARDIS. Naturally, the Doctor and her companions are able to find all of the keys and we’re led swiftly into the climax of the story – which I won’t spoil for you here. But, it’s a good one.
Solomons clearly understands the characters of the Thirteenth Doctor, Ryan, Graham, and Yaz and he excels at writing all of them. He perfectly captures each of their voices and gives them all plenty to do. One of the benefits of writing a story like this in novel-form is the ability for the point-of-view to truly shift, so we’re often able to get into the heads of each of the companions and truly see and understand how they’re reacting to the events they’re a part of, and that’s really nice. The actual plot of this book is really interesting, too. Solomons keeps the pace moving at a good speed, but takes the time to explore many of the ideas that he introduces. And he introduces a lot of really good ideas, too. This is one of my favorite Doctor Who books sheerly because it’s a good old fashioned adventure. I loved Juno Dawson’s The Good Doctor because it was a really good exploration of the impact the Doctor can have on a civilization and I love The Secret in Vault 13 because it gives us the chance to see this Doctor on a truly universe-spanning adventure – something we haven’t seen on the TV series yet.
All in all, David Solomons’ The Secret in Vault 13 is another excellent novel featuring the 13th Doctor. Solomons captures the voices of the Doctor and her friends perfectly while also giving us a unique and exciting adventure that stands alone in its own right. Once the story gets going, the novel is really hard to put down. There are so many excellent ideas in the book and it’s clear that Solomons has such love for this universe, and that all goes a very long way. I really enjoyed reading this book and I hope he writes more Doctor Who books. In fact, the ending of this novel perfectly sets up a sequel that could be set within the TARDIS. I would really like for something like that to happen and for Solomons to write it because he clearly has some interesting ideas involving the TARDIS.
4 out of 5 wands