REVIEW: “Doctor Who: Star Tales”

star talesI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: short stories are a great medium for Doctor Who tales. They provide authors with a nice ability to tell the kinds of stories that maybe wouldn’t quite work as an episode of the show and are too short to support an entire novel. Some of the most creative Doctor Who adventures have come from these collections of short stories (see the recently published Target Collection for examples) and I always look forward to them when they come out. Star Tales is no exception, especially as it finally unveils some of the stories behind the Doctor’s frequently referenced encounters with celebrities. This go ’round, we get our first collection of stories that primarily focuses on the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions – Ryan, Yaz, and Graham – save for one story, early on. How are the stories in this collection? They’re pretty good and definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of this era of the show. (Mild spoilers for the stories within Star Tales.)

Doctor Who: Star Tales (by Steve Cole, Paul Magrs, Jenny T. Colgan, Jo Cotterill, Trevor Baxendale, and Mike Tucker) 
The Doctor is many things – curious, funny, brave, protective of her friends…and a shameless namedropper. While she and her companions battled aliens and travelled across the universe, the Doctor hinted at a host of previous, untold adventures with the great and the good: we discovered she got her sunglasses from Pythagoras (or was it Audrey Hepburn?); lent a mobile phone to Elvis; had an encounter with Amelia Earhart where she discovered that a pencil-thick spider web can stop a plane; had a ‘wet weekend’ with Harry Houdini, learning how to escape from chains underwater; and more. In this collection of new stories, Star Tales takes you on a rip-roaring ride through history, from 500BC to the swinging 60s, going deeper into the Doctor’s notorious name-dropping and revealing the truth behind these anecdotes.

Star Tales is a really fun collection of short stories. I’m always a fan of the “Celebrity Historical” episodes of Doctor Who and Star Tales consists of nothing but celebrity historicals, so you can imagine I was pretty pumped about that. And Star Tales is filled with the best kinds of celebrity historicals – the ones that do something interesting with the historical figure. Jenny T. Colgan’s Chasing the Dawn features the 11th Doctor and Amelia Earnhardt – in a story narrated to Yaz by the 13th Doctor – and it’s a lot of fun seeing such an aloof Doctor interact with someone like Earnhardt. Jo Cotterill’s “Einstein and the Doctor” features the 13th Doctor and her friends solving a mystery revolving around weird aliens leeching off Einstein’s brain – an idea that seems so obvious it’s impressive Doctor Who hadn’t done it before. Trevor Baxendale’s “The Pythagoras Problem” featured Pythagoras and the 13th Doctor (and co) going against a monster that could only be defeated by math. Mike Tucker’s “Mission of the KaaDok” featured an insanely clever alien trying to replicate the brains and personalities of famous celebrities – like Audrey Hepburn. All in all, there’s such a variety of stories in this collection that you’re bound to find something to like.

Some of my favorite stories include “That’s All Right, Mama” by Paul Magrs, a particularly heartbreaking story in which multiple incarnations of the Doctor meet Elvis Presley over the course of his life, and “Who-Dini” by Steve Cole, a really fun mystery involving a shapeshifting alien and Houdini. What made these two stories stand out the most was a mixture of the plots of the stories (what they did with the historical figures/what was actually going on) and the emotion at play within the story. “That’s All Right, Mama” utilized the Doctor’s ability to time travel in a really fun way, incorporating Elvis into her world a little bit while “Who-Dini” leaned heavily into Doctor Who’s classic formula of “something weird is happening to a historical person, better find out what that is” in a really fun way. Both stories had fairly emotional, almost bittersweet endings and those are my favorite kinds of Doctor Who stories. Plus, both of these stories feel like they actually could be episodes of the show, and that’s always a bonus.

With that said, it’s not as though any of the stories in this collection were bad – far from it, actually; all of them are really good. Sure, some of them worked better for me than others did (I’m not a huge fan of “The Pythagoras Problem”, for example – it had an interesting idea and the kind of monster that would only work in prose, but it felt lacking in the mystery department and probably needed at least double the word count to really work) but every story in the collection is well-written and does something interesting with both the Doctor and their companions as well as the historical figure involved in the story. Your mileage may vary on exactly which stories you love but I don’t think any of the stories will really prove disappointing. There’s a nice variety of stories – some of more romantic, some are more mysterious, and others still are more adventurous – and each of the core TARDIS Team members get something nice to do in one of the stories. I do find myself wishing that there was a bit more variety in terms of the Doctors and companions used (save for the first story, all of the stories primarily revolve around an adventure the 13th Doctor and her companions had) but I can’t say I really dislike any of the stories. They’re all really, really solid.

Overall, Star Tales is a very solid collection of short Doctor Who stories. Each of the authors does a great job at capturing the voices of the characters represented in their respective stories and each of the stories is captivating in their own right. Obviously, I have my own personal favorite stories, but none of the stories in this collection come anywhere close to being bad. I do wish there’d been a bit more variety in the Doctors represented in these stories as many of these historical figures were referenced by previous Doctors and it would have been nice to see those stories included. But aside from that, these stories are a lot of fun and it remains a joy seeing the Thirteenth Doctor interact with famous historical figures. If you like Doctor Who, you’re gonna wanna read this book. Some of these stories are just quintessentially Doctor Who and it’s a whole lot of fun.

4 out of 5 wands.

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