About the Author:
An author and editor, Jacqueline Rayner holds a degree in Ancient History. She lives in Essex, UK with her husband and two cats.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3 out of 5
Doctor Who: The Last Dodo
In this original adventure, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and his companion Martha find themselves in the Museum of the Last Ones, where the last examples of dying species are held in eternal suspended animation. Whilst the Doctor and Martha are investigating the disappearances of some of the exhibits, the museum's obsessive curator discovers that within her grasp is the last of the Time Lords.
I'll start with the one big thing I disliked about this book; Rayner chooses to tell large chunks of it from Martha's point of view. In and of itself, that's not a problem, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. We get a great deal of tedious inner monologue which focuses more on Martha's slang idiom and attempting to be humorous than it does on what's actually happening. I found this pretty frustrating and the book sank in my estimation every time a chapter opened in this fashion.
That said, there is something that elevates this book out of the crowd; its handling of the complex ethics of the Museum of the Last Ones. As well as a clear, albeit occasionally hamfistedly-delivered environmentalist message, this book also has us examine the moral dilemma of whether it's better for a species to survive in eternal captivity or to become extinct in freedom. This was an element of the book which continued to play out in my mind long after finishing reading it and that, in itself, is a sign that the author has achieved something noteworthy. The other thing that stuck with me was sharing Martha's sense of horror when a character in the book callously kills one of the last of a species in order to make a unique coat out of it, like Cruella de Vil dialled up to eleven.
I was tempted to only give this book three out of five due to the Martha POV sections, but I think the thought-provoking issues Rayner manages to introduce just about outweigh those parts.
4 out of 5
Doctor Who: The Sontaran Games
A Quick Reads novella featuring the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant). The Doctor arrives at an athletics academy on Earth and soon has to deal not only with a series of mysterious deaths, but also the arrival of a Sontaran advance force. To test the capabilities of the Doctor and the young humans, the Sontarans put on a deadly series of sporting events and force their captives to compete.
The premise of this short book is every bit as silly as that synopsis makes it sound. The Sontarans capture a bunch of athletes, so naturally they put on a sprint race where the loser is shot. Right. The truth is that the motivations of the Sontarans here are so vague that veil is lifted and the truth of this book is laid bare; someone thought it would be a good idea to do a Doctor Who version of the Olympics (very much on the minds of the British in 2009, three years before we were due to host it) and they wanted to splash a recognisable enemy all over the cover. Apparently internal logic only managed the bronze medal.
There is another mystery here, that of the mysterious deaths, and frankly I thought it would've made a better focus for the story all round. Instead, it's treated fairly obviously and all wrapped up in the last few pages.
If you want a short Doctor Who adventure then this isn't an awful book, but it is one that doesn't do justice to any of its key constituent parts.
2 out of 5
Doctor Who: The Stone Rose
A story featuring the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler. Discovering a perfect statue replica of Rose in the British Museum, she and the Doctor travel back to ancient Rome so Rose can become a model. However, there is clearly more going on than meets the eye when it becomes clear that the sculptor Ursus is somehow involved in the disappearance of a noble's son. A disappearance that happened at about the same time a picture-perfect statue of the boy was unveiled.
I had high hopes for this book since the Roman era is one that I find particularly fascinating and the TV episode 'The Fires of Pompeii' was one I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, all that promise fails to pay off.
Firstly, the mystery of the missing Roman boy is one that you will have figured out pretty much as soon as its mentioned, which means all the investigating that the Doctor and Rose get up to is more or less just killing time. Once they've got it all figured out, however, the pace does jump up a notch as the Doctor has to try to save Rose, who has gone off to model for her statue. But this then leads into the book's next and, bigger, problem.
This book becomes very silly, very quickly. It starts off with the Doctor finding himself battling lions and starting a slave uprising in the Colosseum, which sounds cool when I type it out but which comes across as almost Carry On film levels of farce when you actually read it. Things then go from daft to just plain ridiculous as the true power behind all of the goings-on is revealed. What follows is, frankly, nonsense and a late attempt to retcon it all so that it never happened actually makes the book seem worse.
2 out of 5
Doctor Who: Winner Takes All
An original adventure featuring the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Ecclestone) and his companion Rose. Returning to Rose's home, the TARDIS travellers discover that a new competition centred around a computer game has taken the Powell Estate by storm. In the game, players help a race of intelligent porcupine-like creatures battle their mantis-like enemies; but the Doctor quickly realises that the game is more realistic than anyone imagines.
I was a little dubious going into this book, as it begins with a certain amount of the social politics of an urban London council estate. Not generally what I look for in fiction about a time-travelling alien. However, I soon found myself drawn in by the clever and horrifying premise.
As a long-time fan of excessively violent computer games, this book has its characters and, vicariously, us, examine the inherant horror in what it would be like to discover that not only are those legions of 'baddies' you've been zapping actual people, but so are the disposable characters you play as. Where the words 'Game Over' mean that someone has really died and even if you win, you may have helped wipe out an entire race.
Rayner's actual prose is nothing groundbreaking; of the perfectly readable quality that many Doctor Who novels have, but her premise and how she explores it are definitely worth a read.
4 out of 5