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Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
Borrowed Time (Paperback)


Author: Naomi A. Alderman
Publisher: BBC Books
RRP: UK £7.99, US $9.99, Cdn $16.99
ISBN: 978 1 78594 372 0
Publication Date: 19 July 2018

Whatever you borrow must be repaid… Andrew Brown never has enough time. No time to call his sister, or to prepare for that important presentation at the bank where he works. The train’s late, the lift jams. If only he had just a little more time. And time is the business of Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop. They’ll lend him some – at a very reasonable rate of interest. Scenting something sinister, the Doctor, Amy and Rory go undercover at the bank. But they will have to move fast if they are to stop Symington and Blenkinsop before they cash in their investments…

This paperback is a reprint of a 2011 novel featuring what was then the current TARDIS team of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory. It is being given another airing with a new cover for a couple of reasons.

First of all, BBC Books is celebrating the achievements of female contributors to Doctor Who, what with 2018 being the 100th anniversary of women (OK, only certain privileged women over the age of 30 to begin with) being given the right to vote in the UK, and the year in which a female actor, Jodie Whittaker, becomes the Thirteenth Doctor.

Secondly, the woman whose achievements include writing this book, Naomi A. Alderman, has gone up in the world since 2011, so hers is a prestigious name to splash across the cover – like that of Jenny T. Colgan, whose anthology The Triple Knife is being published simultaneously. Alderman had already won several awards by 2011, but since then she has been named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in the magazine’s once-a-decade list and, most recently, won the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel The Power.

Borrowed Time is a well-written book, perfectly pitched to appeal to the broad-spectrum audience that comprises Doctor Who fandom. Alderman’s prose style is simple enough for youngsters to follow, only occasionally tending towards long-windedness. Meanwhile, the plot is sufficiently sophisticated to keep older readers engaged, taking in the complexities of temporal manipulation (something more original than the common fixation on paradoxes and alterations to established history) applied to grown-up subjects such as unethical banking and time poverty. References to the financial crisis of 2007–8 are less topical now than they were in 2011, but being short of time and striving for work-life balance remain potent issues in our fast-paced modern world. The concept of compound interest is introduced to younger readers via the tasty medium of icing on a cake, while the term “loan shark” is satirically couched in the shape of the monsters of the piece.

Unlike The Triple Knife, this is not a book that focuses particularly on women (indeed, you may notice the predominance of male characters in the synopsis above), but there is a good balance of heroes and villains across both sexes. I won’t go into specifics about which protagonists are the baddies, because, with the notable exception of Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop, who are quite obviously wrong ’uns from the start, the allegiances of certain characters may prove to be a surprise. The aforementioned duo reminded me of Mr Oak and Mr Quill from Fury from the Deep, though there are other sinister double acts who may have provided inspiration.

The TARDIS crew are well characterised, and it’s easy to imagine their lines being delivered by Matt Smith, Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan. The Doctor is suitably mercurial, Rory is characteristically bumbling and put-upon, and Amy is her customary selfish self. “A present?” she says, when the Time Lord produces a belated wedding gift, “For me? I mean… for us?” As usual, she carries on as though she is the main character of the piece – and ends up in a sticky situation as a result…

If you haven’t yet taken the opportunity to read this thrilling race against the clock, then I strongly advise you to make time for it.


Richard McGinlay

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