The Clockwise Man

by Justin Richards

BBC Books 9th Doctor series, 2005

This review contains minor spoilers...

It was all true. The 9DAs, if "The Clockwise Man" is any model, are a return to the style of the Target novelisations, a simplified, traditional story for children.

It's reasonably well-executed. I'd be happy for a child of mine to be reading this. If you like kids' books, straightforward adventure tales, then this is an OK work. Not bad for a TV tie-in... but is this the first (of three) TV tie-ins for a new series or is it the umpteen hundredth Doctor Who book? Because Dr Who for many of us is as much a literary property as a TV show. We grew up on the Target novelisations and then Virgin, the authors they found and even fandom itself allowed a series of books to emerge, the New Adventures that were more than most TV tie-ins a unique series to themselves. While I understand the BBC's reasons for a shift in style, I can but lament at what this book isn't, what it (realistically) was never going to be.

What author Justin Richards has done better than I expected is capture the speech and mannerisms of the 9th Doctor and Rose. They breathe in the prose and the story feels at home in season 1 of new Who (complete with bad wolf reference). On occasion, as happened with the early 8DAs, Richards goes overboard in aping the TV performance with particular scenes being echoed—Rose talking to the main in "The Unquiet Dead", the Doctor problem solving in "World War III". However, mostly, I felt at home.

Rather like parts of the TV series(!), the plot is weak. It's typical Richards—practically "Dreams of Empire" re-written. It's a shame with the effort that has gone into the characterisation, pacing and all, that the plot is so tired. Yet this is forgivable for a story that is well-paced, something of a page turner. Richards is a competent craftsman, although he over-eggs the pudding when it comes to a climax that is overwrought, overcomplicated and overlong. A set of contrived circumstances sets up a resolution designed to leave everything tidy.

However, where Richards hasn't got the TV series' feel right is in the subtleties of the story: the Doctor is a bit anodyne (save for the scene in the underwater tunnel!), Rose's flirting too subdued. I just can't see RTD's Doctor being so pro-Tsarist! It needs more spunk than this middle-class, London story offers (and I say that as someone who is born and bred middle-class London and love it). The child viewpoint character gets annoying and the Doctor's behaviour with him implausibly rash. That another young viewpoint character is needed beyond Rose shows how these books, contrary to claims, are firmly aimed at the young.

This just an adventure story with less depth than "The Unquiet Dead" or "Boom Town", let alone "Dalek" or "Father's Day". There is little moral ambiguity here. The TV series is more New Adventure-like than this book is. Well, I'm going to watch the TV series, read author-led series like the Time Hunter novellas and the Faction Paradox novels (really enjoying "The Warlords of Utopia" right now), see how the PDAs go... but I am not encouraged to buy the next 9DA batch.

Henry Potts, 3 Jun 05

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

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