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Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
The Taking of Chelsea 426


Author: David Llewellyn
BBC Books
RRP: £6.99
ISBN: 978 1 84607 758 6
Available 17 September 2009

The Chelsea Flower Show - hardly the most exciting or dangerous event in the calendar, or so the Doctor thinks. However, this is Chelsea 426, a city-sized future colony floating on the clouds of the planet Saturn, and the flowers are much more than they seem. As the Doctor investigates, he becomes more and more worried. Why is shopkeeper Mr Pemberton acting so strangely, and what is Professor Wilberforce’s terrible secret? He is close to finding the answers when a familiar foe arrives, and the stakes are suddenly raised much higher. The Sontarans have plans of their own, and they’re not here to arrange flowers...

As with the previous batch of hardback Who novels, the Doctor is travelling alone, some time between Journey’s End and The End of Time, and faces a succession of old adversaries. In this book he confronts not only the Sontarans but also their enemy the Rutan Host.

The problem - or rather one of the problems - is that the Sontarans have returned quite a lot lately and so are in serious danger of overkill, having appeared on TV last year in Series 4 of Doctor Who and Series 2 of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and in prose earlier this year in the Quick Reads novella The Sontaran Games, which also featured the Rutan Host.

Another problem is that the aliens don’t behave as they normally do. The Sontarans we encounter here are part of an intelligence division rather than the usual battle fleet. Their job is to investigate reports of Rutan activity rather than to attack first and ask questions later. I can accept this - after all, we know from The Sontaran Experiment that this warrior race is quite capable of meticulous planning and analysis when it is deemed necessary.

However, David Llewellyn’s depiction of the Rutans is extremely peculiar. Rather than mimic other intelligent life forms as they usually do, here the Rutans take the form of plant spores and possess any humans that are unfortunate enough to inhale them. This leads me to wonder whether the book started out as a story featuring Krynoids, Varga plants or some brand-new vegetable menace, and the author was asked to include the Rutans instead and therefore work in the Sontarans as well.

Perhaps it’s for the best, as The Taking of Chelsea 426 needs all the audience hooks it can get. It isn’t the most gripping new series novel ever written, with little in the way of suspense or mystery, and neither side in the interplanetary conflict seems to have a particularly well thought out plan of action.

It’s a pleasant enough read, though, and younger readers should appreciate the fact that the Doctor’s temporary “companions” are a brother and sister in their early teens, which make a change from the typical young adult female. There’s also an eccentric war veteran hotel guest known simply as the Major, who is clearly inspired by the character of the same name in Fawlty Towers.

The Taking of Chelsea 426 isn’t a major work of prose, but it’s worth taking a look.


Richard McGinlay

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