Think back to the Scholastic Book Fair. Eight years old. A ten dollar bill your mom gave you before you left for school that morning. A gymnasium full of folding tables covered with stacks of books. The smell of paper and ink from the just unboxed books. A feeling of excitement stirring in the breast. The thought: “Maybe I’ll buy a book on baseball! Maybe I’ll buy a book on the presidents! Maybe I’ll pick out a Snoopy collection or a Little House book!” This might be the first time you’ve picked out a book for yourself. The possibilities are endless.
That’s the way I felt yesterday afternoon when I opened a package the post office had left at my apartment door. Inside was Doctor Who: Adventures in Lockdown, a collection of short fiction from the “Doctor Who Lockdown” online events in the spring due to the COVID crisis as well as some new fiction and artwork. As I tore open the envelope, the smell of the book hit my nostrils and those comforting memories of childhood and the Scholastic Book Fair came flooding back. Maybe the comparison doesn’t make much sense to you. But it does to me. That’s how this book makes me feel. Just holding it, I feel happy.
As for the contents, if you followed the Lockdown material online, you’re going to be familiar with about ninety percent of this. While some of the text stories I built into an ebook for myself, some of the other stuff, like the videos, I couldn’t do that with, so it’s nice to have them all (minus, unfortunately, the text for Russell T. Davies’ “Farewell, Sarah Jane”) in one package. The standout, and the one I’m most glad to have between the covers, is Steven Moffat’s “The Terror of the Umpty Ums,” a wonderful and different sort of story — think Gaiman’s “One Life, Furnished with Early Moorcock” or my own “Make-Believe” — and he writes the thirteenth Doctor very well. There are odd little surprises, like a reference to the red-haired Merlin Doctor in Paul Cornell’s “Shadow of a Doubt.”
There are three original stories, one each from Neil Gaiman, Vinay Patel, and Mark Gatiss.
Gaiman’s story, “One Virtue, and a Thousand Crimes,” which he talked about a little bit when he appeared on David Tennant’s podcast a few weeks ago, centers on the Corsair, another Time Lord, an old friend of the Doctor’s, one of the good ones, whose death set in motion the events of “The Doctor’s Wife.” I’m not sure which Corsair this is meant to be — I can’t find my copy of The Brilliant Book at the moment, I think it might be an incarnation we’ve not seen or knew of before — and Gaiman seems to suggest that whatever happened before “The Doctor’s Wife” was not the death of the Corsair. The story is surprisingly fanwanky — it’s a prequel to a seventh Doctor story, another Doctor appears, and there’s a Cartmel Masterplan reference. Gaiman has some lovely turns of phrase — like when the Corsair’s TARDIS enters the Vortex. It’s slight but feels nice and Gaiman-y. After reading this, I’d like a story with the Corsair and Parrot teaming up with Paul Magrs’ Iris Wildthyme and Panda now; I can imagine Iris saying to the Corsair, “My TARDIS may be improbable, but at least I don’t need an open body of water when I materialize…” 🙂
Gatiss’ original story, “Fellow Traveller,” is about an old woman encountering the thirteenth Doctor on a rainy and cold night, and they take shelter together in an old, abandoned farmhouse. Gatiss never names the old woman, nor the Doctor for that matter, but midway through it becomes obvious who the old woman is and what this is a sequel to. It’s touching.
Patel’s story, “The Tourist,” is about an older man, just moved to the city, having not lived a life of his own for various reasons, who the Doctor helps in various ways by providing a nudge here and there. It’s a type of story we’ve seen before — the Doctor making one person’s life better just because she can — and it doesn’t break the mold, but it’s charming all the same.
The story illustrations, which really add to the feel of a book that I’d have bought from the Scholastic Book Fair when I was eight, are a lovely touch.
Doctor Who: Adventures in Lockdown is a nice little book. It’s not essential, if I didn’t have it I wouldn’t feel I missed it, but I’m glad it’s here, a little light in the darkness of Our COVID Year. For, as the Doctor reminds us on page 3, “Remember, you’ll get through this. And things will be alright. Even if they look uncertain. Even if you’re worried. Darkness never prevails.”