Blue Box

by Kate Orman

BBC Books Past Doctors series, 2003

Many an author has tried to push the boundaries of Doctor Who in their writing, but Kate Orman is trying to do something altogether more difficult: she is trying to push the boundaries of her own writing. Not content with churning out the typical Orman book again and again, Kate's writing experiments with pieces as diverse as her "Pretext" short story, "The Year of the Intelligent Tigers" and now "Blue Box".

"Blue Box" is an intriguing and subtle work (a relief after the unsubtlety of recent reads: the likes of "The Domino Effect" and "The Glass Prison"). Written as a pastiche of an '80s computer crime caper, Kate Orman gives us a story that is exciting in its own right... well, maybe it could lose a chapter or two of running around in the middle... but through which we also get a fresh perspective on the Doctor and Peri, and their relationship. By writing as an outsider, as a non-omniscient narrator, the Doctor and Peri's relationship is portrayed stripped of the baggage of Who lore (similar to an extent to the approach of "Dying in the Sun"). The choice of genre style in some ways limits the author's ability to delve into the characters, to write the sort of book rich in characterisation that we've become accustomed to from Kate, but the discipline enforces a different approach. The text infers more about the Doctor and Peri than some other 6th Doctor books have attempted to show.

Written from the distant future (in computer technology terms!), "Blue Box" is also an opportunity for some wry comments with hindsight on the development of computers and the internet. We can enjoy '80s nostalgia as "Blue Box" talks about the early days of Usenet.

However, while I am full of praise for the book, I feel it does fail at one turn in that it seems to lack thematic coherence. What's it all about? There's the story of Peri and the Doctor's relationship, there's the story of the Eridani and the Savant, there's the story of Chick's life... each has a revelation at the end, but are these meant to interrelate? Why are these three stories placed together? Is "Blue Box" about finding one's place in the world? As with "Seeing I", the Who elements of the story (alien weapon threat to Earth) seem tagged on.

In all, great book and proof that the PDAs can be inventive...

Henry Potts, 11 Mar 2004; revised 9 Apr 2006

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

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