I hope it isn’t oversharing to say that I read this book sitting in bed with a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits, on a Saturday morning, warm and cosy, while the snow fell heavily outside and my local radio station played Duran Duran. No, I’m not 10 years old and it isn’t the early 1980s, but reading this book transported me back to my childhood.
The Spear of Destiny is a short Doctor Who story featuring the third Doctor, as portrayed on TV by Jon Pertwee, and his assistant Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning.
It is part of a series of 11 books, one for each Doctor, to celebrate the TV show’s 50th anniversary. And it’s a good one.
The writer, Marcus Sedgwick, clearly knows the Pertwee era of the show very well. The characterization of, and relationship between, the Doctor and Jo is spot on. This book has the same feel as the old Target book novelizations, and in nostalgia terms, that’s gold dust. Fans of a certain age will no doubt know what I’m talking about.
So what about fans of the 21st-century-show vintage? Will they like it? I think they will.
These books are published by Puffin, which is Penguin’s children’s imprint, and are therefore primarily intended for a younger readership. The pacing is fast, the plot moves forward quickly, there is no padding at all, and the overall story concept is interesting. The Doctor and Jo are trying to steal a historical artefact called The Spear of Destiny which, according to the Doctor, is actually a piece of dangerous alien technology and must be taken out of circulation.
The story moves from London in 1973 to Viking-era Sweden, where the Spear is in the possession of Norse god/legend Odin.
The concept and execution of the book is both simple and effective. It stays much truer to the spirit of the show than many other Doctor Who books that have been released over the last twenty years or so.
It would perhaps be over-critical to point out a negative, but the length of the book does rather curtail what could have been a more interesting story. I appreciate that these books are intended as quick reads (although I’m sure Puffin would point out that they are legally different from the BBC’s Quick Reads series :-) ), however, the word limit feels like an artificial constraint.
As I read the book, I found myself wondering if it had started out as a novel twice the final size, and was heavily edited to the point of butchery. This is felt most strongly in the lack of character description. If you don’t know anything about the third Doctor and Jo, such as what they look like, then you won’t be any the wiser by the time you reach the end. I missed those old Target book descriptions: “A shock of white hair and a young, yet old, face,” – that’s the Doctor by the way, not “pretty”, “petite”, “pleasant-looking”, “tousled, blonde-haired” Jo.
It is an eBook for goodness’ sakes, so give the writer some latitude.
I don’t want the review to be longer than the actual book, so I’ll leave you with two things:
- If you have a relaxing Saturday morning ahead of you, or an hour or two before bedtime, download this and lose yourself in the innocence of the 1970s.
- As if to prove the dimension-twisting nature of Doctor Who, have a look at the rather bizarre categories that the book seemed to land in, in Amazon’s bestseller rank. Non-fiction? Music? Arts? Film?
This article was first posted on March 25, 2013