Doctor Who
Match of the Day

Author: Chris Boucher
BBC Books
RRP 5.99
ISBN 0 563 48618 X
Available 03 January 2005

When the Doctor and Leela arrive on a planet where murder has been legalised and televised lethal combat is commonplace, Leela is challenged to a duel. How long can she survive when not to kill is an offence punishable by death...?

For a moment there, I thought Mr Boucher had penned a novel about the wrong BBC Saturday night institution! In fact, his Match of the Day deals not with football (that's soccer, for our American readers) but with ruthless gladiatorial fights to the death. There is the occasional footie reference, though: for example, when evidence is presented in the form of an action replay as the Doctor and Leela are put on trial for not killing somebody.

As ever, the author's depiction of the uneasy relationship between the often impatient Fourth Doctor and the intelligent but uneducated Leela is almost flawless. This is hardly surprising, since he created Leela and it was for this particular TARDIS team that he wrote his three Doctor Who television scripts. I particularly enjoyed the Doctor's comments about what constitutes a waste of time and Leela's musings on the magical properties of money (which does indeed seem to miraculously generate itself out of a promise to pay).

The book's cover might lead you to expect the robot dog K-9 to appear as well, since the Doctor seems to be blowing on his whistle, but he doesn't.

I didn't like Boucher's first two novels, Last Man Running and Corpse Marker, very much at all, but fortunately his prose style continues to improve, and I found this at least as readable as his last book, Psi-ence Fiction. However, as was the case with Psi-ence, there is rather too much technobabble during the TARDIS scenes. The author is also still too sparing with his use of punctuation, and - unforgivably - repeatedly omits the apostrophe from "let's" (short for "let us").

Unlike the featured sport of television's Match of the Day, this isn't a game of two halves. It's more like a game of three thirds. The first third works the best, featuring the appealing character of duellist's agent Jerro Fanson, who is reminiscent of Oliver Reed's character in Gladiator. The plot goes off the rails slightly during the middle bit of the book as, instead of acting on a promise to track down Fanson's missing client Keefer, the Doctor tries to set up his own team of non-lethal fighters. Even the Doctor has doubts about this course of action. Happily, though, the various plotlines are successfully brought together in the last third.

The final score:

Richard McGinlay

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