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.
A mysterious game found only in the darkest, most obscure corners of the internet. A game that ties together a multitude of conspiracy theories. A game that might be killing its players and lead to the end of the world. It’s a pretty great hook for a book, right? Thankfully, Rabbits, Terry Miles’ debut novel, lives up to its promising premise. It’s a fast-paced, twisty, mind-bending read. But it closest itself some to vagueness and underexplained ideas, resulting in an uneven climax that doesn’t quite bring its mysteries to a satisfying conclusion. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: I received an early copy of the novel from NetGalley and Del Rey. All thoughts are my own.)
“Rabbits” Written by Terry Miles Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. The identity of these winners are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself.
But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past—and the body count is rising. And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K—a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts, or the whole world will pay the price.
Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.
There’s a pretty common problem that many first books in a series suffer from. And that’s an overall lack of focus. Often, the first books of a series try to be too many things all at once. They introduce a host of characters. They spend a lot of time expanding the series’ universe, sowing the seeds for future books. And they try to tell their own self-contained, satisfying narratives. Some books get the balancing act between all of these perfectly right. Others don’t. The Library of the Dead falls into the latter camp, suffering from a pretty chronic case of first-book-in-a-series syndrome. It’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. It just tries to be too many different things at once and comes off as unfocused instead of compelling. All of the elements are there, but the plot, itself, feels a bit like an afterthought. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and Tor Books. All thoughts are my own. This review will be as spoiler free as possible, though may contain very light spoilers.
The Library of the Dead By T.L. Huchu Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.
A punk rock ghost story sounds pretty cool, right? Home Sick Pilots often lives up to its cool-sounding premise, but the plot and characters surrounding that premise are a little too thinly sketched for the comic to work as well as it could—for now, anyway. Simply put, volume one of Home Sick Pilots is a promising start to an ongoing series, but it’s not a home run. On paper, all of the elements are there. The artwork is great, the premise is intriguing, the pacing is solid, the broad strokes of the plot work well, and even the characters are interesting. The problem is just that not enough time is spent on any one thing, so everything feels a bit glossed over as though this volume is more of a prologue than a first act.
Home Sick Pilots, Volume 1: Teenage Haunts Written by Dan Watters, illustrated by Caspar Wijngaard In the summer of 1994, a haunted house walks across California. Inside is Ami, lead-singer of a high school punk band- who’s been missing for weeks. How did she get there? What do these ghosts want? And does this mean the band have to break up? Expect three chord songs and big bloody action as Power Rangers meets The Shining (yes really), and as writer DAN WATTERS (Lucifer/COFFIN BOUND) and artist CASPAR WIJNGAARD (Star Wars/Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt) delve into the horrors of misspent youth.
If you’re not a fan of River Song, you’re probably not gonna like The Ruby’s Curse, Alex Kingston’s first Doctor Who book and River’s first solo novel. It’s pure, unadulterated River Song, with all the pros and cons that come with that. The book’s been advertised as a sort of melding of fact and fiction, with River writing a new Melody Malone story only to have elements of that story bleed into her reality. And, honestly, it’s every bit as mind-bending as it sounds—in the best way possible. Doctor Who: The Ruby’s Curse is a love letter to River Song and her time on the show. It’s clever, thrilling, action-packed, and oh-so-meta. Is it perfect? No, but it sure is a lot of fun. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
Doctor Who: The Ruby’s Curse by Alex Kingston 1939, New York. Private Eye, Melody Malone, is hired to find a stolen ruby, the Eye of Horus. The ruby might hold the secret to the location of Cleopatra’s tomb – but everyone who comes into contact with it dies. Can Melody escape the ruby’s curse?
1939, New York. River Song, author of the Melody Malone Mysteries, is forced to find a reality-altering weapon, the Eye of Horus – but everyone who comes into contact with it dies. River doesn’t believe in curses – but is she wrong?
From the top-security confines of Stormcage to the barbarism of first-century Egypt, River battles to find the Eye of Horus before its powers are used to transform the universe. To succeed, she must team up with a most unlikely ally – her own fictional alter ego, Melody. And together they must solve another mystery: Is fiction changing into fact – or is fact changing into fiction?
It may not be the most beloved episode of Doctor Who (or of season 7, even), but I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Angels Take Manhattan.” I love River Song and I love film noir-style detective stories. So, of course, I love an episode where River is a film noir-style detective. And in that episode, there’s a book that’s based on her adventures as this detective—Melody Malone. It’s one of my favorite elements of the episode; I mean, who doesn’t love a good book-within-a-show? Honestly, I’d love to read a novelization of the episode written like a Melody Malone novel. And, when I first came across Justin Richards’ “The Angel’s Kiss,” I thought that’s what I’d be getting—a recreation of the book featured in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Unfortunately, that’s not what this is.
Most movie novelizations end up being a not-quite-final draft of the film’s script converted into prose. There’s the occasional deleted scene or expanded character backstory, but it’s mostly just a book version of the film, as you’d have seen it. Doctor Who: The TV Movie is precisely that kind of novelization. It’s well written, sure, and Russell’s prose adds a fair amount of depth to the story that a ninety-minute TV film simply can’t have. But it’s still a very safe, very standard novelization. It’s a little disappointing compared to how different some of the other recent Target novelizations are to their original stories, but I’m kind of okay with Russell’s adaptation being as faithful and safe as it is. I have quite the soft spot for the TV film, and Russell’s novel does a great job of capturing what works about the film. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review features mild spoilers for Doctor Who: The TV Movie and its novelization. Read at your own risk.
Doctor Who: The TV Movie (written by Gary Russell) It’s December 1999, and strange things are happening as the new millennium nears. A British police box appears from nowhere in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the mysterious man inside it is shot down in the street. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the man dies and another stranger appears, claiming to be the same person in a different body: a wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor.
But the Doctor is not the only alien in San Francisco. His deadly adversary the Master is murdering his way through the city and has taken control of the TARDIS. The Master is desperate to take the Doctor’s newly regenerated body for himself, and if the Doctor does not capitulate, it will literally cost him the Earth… and every last life on it.
Dalek is a perfect episode of Doctor Who. It’s got great character work, thrilling action sequences, and an expertly crafted and executed plot. The idea of novelizing the episode must have been a daunting one for Robert Shearman, the episode’s original writer and the author of this new Target novelization. How do you successfully translate the episode’s bone-chilling tension into prose? The answer, in Dalek’s case, is that you don’t. Instead, Shearman takes the opportunity to delve deeper into the story, stretching out the backstories of all of the characters and allowing the narrative a lot of room to breathe. This results in a compelling novel, but one that lacks the tension and focus of the episode it’s adapting. It’s a fun read—but a wildly different experience when compared to the episode. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: There will be mild spoilers for “Dalek” ahead. Read at your own risk.
Doctor Who: Dalek (written by Robert Shearman) The Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground vault in Utah in the near future. The vault is filled with alien artefacts. Its billionaire owner, Henry van Statten, even has possession of a living alien creature, a mechanical monster in chains that he has named a Metaltron. Seeking to help the Metaltron, the Doctor is appalled to find it is in fact a Dalek – one that has survived the horrors of the Time War just as he has. And as the Dalek breaks loose, the Doctor is brought back to the brutality and desperation of his darkest hours spent fighting the creatures of Skaro… this time with the Earth as their battlefield.
Max Brooks’s first foray into Minecraft literature, The Island, was better than it had any right being. So naturally, I was excited to see what direction he’d take the follow-up, The Mountain, in. While The Island was a charming, unique take on a Minecraft story, The Mountain overstays its welcome a bit. The whole “protagonist finds himself in the world of Minecraft and is confused about everything” gimmick grows stale, even with Brooks’s attempt at spicing things up by introducing a new character, Summer, to act as a foil to Guy, the protagonist of the two books. The problem with The Mountain is that it’s too much like the first book. What felt quaint there feels tired here. It’s just another book that hints at this grander, more interesting idea (why have these people suddenly found themselves trapped in the Minecraft world, with barely any memories of their former lives?) instead of properly exploring it.
The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.
“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?
“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.