REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz” by Jacqueline Rayner

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Doctor Who met The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then look no further. Jacqueline Rayner’s The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is exactly what it sounds like. After traveling to 1939 LA to see the world premiere of The Wizard of Oz, the Doctor and her friends are shocked to learn nobody’s ever heard of the film, the book, or its author. Even more shocking is when a tornado carries the TARDIS (and all of its occupants) away to a suspiciously Oz-like land. To escape, the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, Ryan, and a stowaway named Theodore have to act out the events of the book and find the Wizard of Oz before the mysterious Wicked Witch gets to them. It sounds like it’s gonna be a big gimmick, but it’s surprisingly emotional. The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is a quick, fun read that exemplifies the endless possibilities of Doctor Who. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: Mild spoilers follow. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
When a sudden tornado engulfs the TARDIS, the Thirteenth Doctor and her fam find themselves transported to the magical land of Oz. With a damaged TARDIS and an unexpected stowaway from the 1930s, their only hope of getting home is to follow the yellow brick road.

But when an army of scarecrows ambushes them, they quickly realise that everything is not as it should be, and they’re thrown into a fight for survival against a mysterious enemy. As each of her companions becomes a shadow of their former selves, only the Doctor is left standing.

Desperate to save her friends, she must embark on a perilous journey to seek help from the mysterious Wizard of Oz – and stop whatever forces are at work before she and her friends are trapped in the fictional world forever.

The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is pitched as a crossover between Doctor Who and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And that’s exactly what it is. The general plotline follows the original Oz tale pretty closely. The gang is greeted by “munchkins” and told to follow the yellow brick road to a wizard who can fix their problems. Along the way, they encounter scarecrows, “tin men,” poppy fields, porcelain dolls, lions, flying monkies, a reclusive wizard, and an evil wicked witch. All of whom are given a delightful Doctor Who twist.

Most of the Oz creatures are pre-existing Doctor Who aliens—some from the classic era, some more modern. It’s a lot of fun seeing the way Rayner ties the more explicitly Doctor Who elements into the world of The Wizard of Oz. But all of these easter eggs—and there are a lot of them—are just appetizers for the main course.

While the original Wizard of Oz is about discovering your inner strength, smarts, heart, and bravery, Rayner explores what might happen if these inner qualities were literally ripped away from you. What happens if a scarecrow removes Graham’s wit? Or if a tin man removes Ryan’s kindness? Or if lions remove Yaz’s bravery? Who are the companions when their defining characteristics are gone? Who is the Doctor when faced with a threat that’s robbing her friends of their very essence? And how is poor Theodore, a total stranger to the Doctor’s world, supposed to help save the day?

This is where I feel the heart of the book is—characters losing who they are and having to rediscover themselves. Watching Graham, Ryan, and Yaz act so differently than they normally do hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. It honestly hurt a little bit. Fans of these characters are going to find parts of this book difficult to read because of that. But the payoff to it all is so sweet. Theodore steals the show, though. I don’t want to say much about Theodore’s arc because I think it’s worth experiencing in the context of the narrative. Let’s just say that Theodore is the emotional core of the novel, and I love the way Rayner develops them. It’s surprisingly emotional and I think a lot of fans are going to love the direction it goes.

If I had one complaint, it’s that everything is a bit short and predictable. To be fair, it’s a middle-grade book intended to follow the plotline or another book. So, it’s doing exactly what it sets out to do. Plus there’s the added mystery of who’s behind everything that should make the book a bit more interesting. The problem is that the mystery isn’t very compelling because it’s immediately obvious who the villain is. I mean, the book’s cover literally telegraphs it. And that’s a shame because the book waits so long to execute this painfully obvious reveal that you end up spending so much time just waiting to see the thing you already know you’re going to see. And it takes your attention away from everything else. Even worse, the book still treats the reveal like it’s a surprise. And maybe it would’ve been, if the cover hadn’t, ya know, given it away. Still, the strength of the emotional arcs vastly outweighs the slight disappointment in the mystery. Even with the subpar mystery, I adored this book.

Overall, The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is absolutely delightful. It’s a middle-grade book that reads like one. But middle-grade books are a lot of fun. And The Wonderful Doctor of Oz simply bursts with creativity. The blending of the Doctor Who universe with the Wizard of Oz universe is so perfect it makes you wonder why it’s never been done before. And the character work is beautiful and goes to some surprisingly emotional places. Rayner brilliantly captures the voices of the Doctor, Ryan, Graham, and Yaz. These characters sound exactly the way you remember them and they come right to life on the page. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about the book, even if I found parts of it disappointing. Theodore’s arc, alone, is worth reading the book. And everything else is just icing on the cake. If you love the Thirteenth Doctor, you’re gonna love this book. It’s creative, energetic, fun, and—most of all—hopeful.

4 out of 5 wands.

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