Doctor Who
Sting of the Zygons

Author: Stephen Cole
BBC Books
RRP: 6.99, US $11.99, Cdn $14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84607 225 3
Available 19 April 2007

The TARDIS lands the Doctor and Martha in the Lake District in 1909, where a small village has been terrorised by a giant, scaly monster. The search is on for the elusive "Beast of Westmorland", and explorers, naturalists and hunters from across the country are descending on the fells. But there is a more sinister presence at work in the Lakes than a mere monster on the rampage, and the Doctor is soon embroiled in the plans of an old and terrifying enemy. As the hunters become the hunted, a desperate battle of wits begins - with the future of the entire world at stake...

Old monsters have reappeared in new series novels before now. For instance, the Slitheen returned in The Monsters Inside, while the Daleks and the Cybermen have both made comebacks in the Quick Reads books. However, this is the first time that an enemy from the old show that has not appeared in the new one has been depicted in a new series novel.

The Zygons and their pet Skarasens, which made their debut on television in 1975 in Terror of the Zygons, have previously been portrayed in print in the Eighth Doctor novel The Bodysnatchers - though the author makes no overt references to that book, only to the events of the television serial. Cole concurs with Bodysnatchers author Mark Morris that young Zygons have pale, maggoty flesh, though he assigns genders to the creatures, whereas Morris claimed they were hermaphrodites.

The author succeeds in treading the fine line between bringing unfamiliar readers up to speed with who and what the monsters are, without boring those of us in the know with endless pages of exposition. In terms of recapturing the appeal of Terror of the Zygons, he ticks all the right boxes. Deceptively idyllic rural location? Check. Scary lake monster? Check. Aliens impersonating human beings? Check. However, this is no mere rehash. Cole plays with and adds interesting twists to familiar ideas, and ties in themes of hunting and contamination of livestock (the Zygons lose a Skarasen to a condition not unlike mad cow disease).

My only real criticism is of the rather poor montage cover, with its black-and-white Edwardian hunters superimposed on the colour background, out of scale with the TARDIS. On a more minor note, the Zygons' organic technology doesn't seem as radical as it once did, now that we have got used to the organic design of the current TARDIS interior.

In all other respects, though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book, with plenty of exciting chapter endings worthy of a cliffhanger sting.

Richard McGinlay

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