Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Science fiction
Series: Past Doctor Adventures #54, Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special Edition Books #1
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: BBC Books
Date Released: January 3, 2013 (reprint; originally published June 1, 2002)
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Deep in the heart of a hollowed-out moon the First Doctor finds a chilling secret: ten alien corpses, frozen in time at the moment of their death. They are the empire’s most wanted terrorists, and their discovery could end a war devastating the galaxy. But is the same force that killed them still lurking in the dark? And what are its plans for the people of Earth?
November 23, 1963. The BBC premiered what they thought would be a children’s TV show about a mysterious time-traveling doctor and his companions. And the president of the United States had been assassinated in Dallas the day before. Not many people gave much of a damn about entertainment television that weekend, or much of that week. It turned out to be one of those times when the universe changed.
The Beeb repeated the premiere of that little TV show the following week. The irascible Doctor and his granddaughter stepped out of the TARDIS in a junkyard in London near Coal Hill School, and into science fiction and television history.
Fifty years later, BBC Books is re-releasing one of its tie-in novels in an anniversary edition for each of the eleven regenerations of the Doctor who have appeared, so far, in the history of the program. (The identity of the Twelfth Doctor will be announced shortly.)
I’ve already reviewed The Festival of Death, the Fourth Doctor story, but it seemed fitting to go back to the beginning and take a look at Ten Little Aliens, a First Doctor story. It started with him, after all.
Ten Little Aliens doesn’t seem like a typical Doctor Who story, especially to people who are used to the current incarnations of the Doctor. The story begins as a space-marine type story, more like Starship Troopers or some other space opera. The stars of this story are the space marines on a training exercise, not the Doctor and his companions, Ben and Polly.
The marines are there for a training exercise, and it’s an exercise that goes seriously wrong. Otherwise, they wouldn’t need the Doctor. But the First Doctor used his brain and very definitely not his brawn. It’s unusual to see the need to worry about the frailty of the Doctor and the need to stop for the old man to catch his breath. All the subsequent incarnations were younger and in better health than their original.
The marines don’t trust the Doctor and his companions. That’s pretty normal. The Doctor has a habit of dropping into sticky situations that get worse before they get better. But these space marines are training for an ongoing war, and this exercise was supposed to be on an uninhabited asteroid. It’s not just the Doctor that’s messed up the scenario, things are much more grisly than that.
Both the Doctor and the marines discover a tableau of ten dead aliens in stasis. But the bodies keep disappearing, and so do the marines. As the situation deteriorates, the asteroid turns out to be a spaceship on course for an interstellar incident.
Of course, they have a traitor in their midst. Just when they think things can’t get any worse, they get really, really ugly. The Doctor may be able to save them, but he may not be able to save them in time. Or from each other.
Escape Rating B-: It took me a long time to get into this one. Partly because the First Doctor is the one I’m least familiar with (except for the Eighth Doctor), and partly because the storytelling was so different from the usual.
This is a cross between a space opera/space marine training story and a kind of locked-room murder mystery. There actually do turn out to be timey-wimey bits. But the reason the murders happen has to do with the corruption of the human empire and their enemies, and more explanation would have helped. A lot.
The mystery, and the reason behind the murders, turned out to be not merely grim, but downright gory. It’s the kind of thing that got played for camp by the Second and Fourth Doctors, but was deadly serious this go around. This story was definitely not for the faint of heart, and possibly verges on horror at points.
There were also evil angel statues, but no blinking problem. This was written several years before the episode Blink, so it’s not the novel-writer’s fault that the angels in his story feel derivative. But they still do.
The Doctor does save the day, and then slips out as the celebration commences. This Doctor went for the mystery. The way that the military brotherhood included Ben, even across centuries and light-years, was kind of cool.
On the other hand, while the concept of the neural net was necessary to solve the problem, the choose-your-own-adventure method of writing it drove me a little nuts. Although not quite as nuts as the recent announcement that someone might have found a cache of lost Doctor Who episodes from the First Doctor era.
The non-fictional loss of those early episodes is even more dastardly than the fictional one in this First Doctor story.