Along with Players I also picked up a copy of Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole a First Doctor story with Ben and Polly as the companions. From the title this is clearly inspired by Agatha Christie – is this to the detriment of the story or does it not matter in the end?
The synopsis does not do this book justice:
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?
The story starts with the introduction to a group of future soldiers (think Starship Troopers) on a training mission about to sent out to an asteroid for their final exercise before they finish their training. At the same time the TARDIS arrives and becomes trapped behind a force field of some sort. Despite the huge number of characters the plot moves along well and as we might expect people start to vanish as the asteroid is revealed to be the home to the corpses of alien terrorists.
We have much in the way of alien technology, groups being separated, mysterious disappearances and slowly learn of the dark horror waiting for all those who have ventured into this trap. Ben and Polly both have things to do and the Doctor has to rely on all his intellect as he tries to help the humans fight against an apparently unstoppable and advanced alien race.
There are many deaths and a fabulous array of alien forms – strange fleas, statues and even flying angels. At times it reminds the reader (if they are aware) of some of the Faction Paradox technology from the Eighth Doctor Adventures though only in a small way.
It ends well (of course) though not before many of those present are transformed by their experiences.
The Agatha Christie angle appears minor and just the ‘who isn’t really dead’ plot twist that doesn’t dominate: what we have here is a fascinating future warrior story blended with a story for the First Doctor who is becoming more and more frail and does not know what is going on. This is a Doctor surviving on will-power and intellect not knowledge, technology or comrades.
The many characters all have distinct identities and there is a section near the end that is highly experimental in its narrative style in that it reads like one of the ‘choose your own story’ books that were popular in the 1970s/ 80s.
I was really impressed with the quality of the story and the darker, more adult edge to the characters of Ben and particularly Polly. There are a few nods to the future – regeneration is slightly foreshadowed and we get one or two reversals of polarity.
This is the best Doctor Who title I have read this year (in the whole 12 days!) so far and I suspect it will be at or near the top by this year’s end.