This review is spoiler-free so consider this the opposite of a spoiler warning.
Whimsical is a word I’d use to describe a few incarnations of the Doctor, but it perhaps applies the most to the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker’s turn as the Time Lord we know and love is eccentric and sometimes even disjointed in the most charming of ways. That tone is more than captured in A.L. Kennedy’s Doctor Who: The Drosten’s Curse. The plot is by turns lighthearted, scary, and just a touch untidy.
The story is an expansion of a short story Kennedy wrote for Doctor Who: Time Trips. It’s about an ancient and alien being that’s causing all manner of disturbances on a golf course/spa hotel in Arbroath. It’s stirring up enough of a ruckus to attract the attention of the TARDIS and the Doctor, and he recruits an employee of the spa hotel–Bryony–to help him investigate. It’s not quite an all-new adventure, but as far as I can tell, it does go into more detail than the short story.
I went into The Drosten’s Curse with, shall we say, a special perspective. I’ve never read a Doctor Who book before, I wasn’t familiar with Kennedy’s work, and I’ve seen just a handful of Fourth Doctor episodes. I’m a fan of the time traveling series but am more familiar with the modern era. While my limited knowledge and experience affected my experience (your mileage may vary and all that), it was still an enjoyable read.
The narrative is on the scatterbrained side, jumping from perspective to perspective and from point to point. That’s the untidy part I mentioned previously. It has a distracting effect on occasion but also serves to keep you on your toes. You can never settle in, and that’s not a bad thing. You have to give this book your full attention because you never know what direction the next page will take you in. The style takes away any sense of comfortability, but that suits the subject matter.
You’re accompanying the Doctor, a human (Bryony), and an alien while they face one of the most formidable and powerful threats in all of the galaxy. You shouldn’t feel comfortable and safe. The way Kennedy writes keeps energy levels high and puts you in the fray along with the protagonists–for better or worse. And, also, it’s very Fourth Doctor. He doesn’t have the longest of attention spans, and Kennedy matches the rhythm of the story to the Fourth Doctor’s frenetic pace.
A side effect of the darting around is that it doesn’t always feel like we spend enough time with the primary, non-Doctor characters. I only barely scratched the surface of Bryony’s motivations, goals, and skills, and I wanted more. The same feeling also applies to the alien we encounter. We learn enough about the creature to make it frightening—its full and incredible power is apparent—but we get that information at such distant intervals that it’s hard to piece together a full picture.
Still, The Drosten’s Curse is an entertaining book. Kennedy’s tale feels like an episode that could have happened, and it’s all too easy to picture Tom Baker and his signature scarf as you flip through the pages and go on an adventure.
This review was completed using a copy of the book provided by the publisher.