Doctor Who
Ten Little Aliens

Author: Stephen Cole
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53853 8
Available 03 June 2002

Schirr aliens, led by the Ten-strong, renegade subjects of the Earth empire, have been using mysterious Morphiean dark arts in acts of terrorism. Trainees of the empire's Anti-Terror Elite Corps enter an asteroid training ground only to find the apparently lifeless bodies of the Ten-strong. They also find the Doctor, Ben and Polly. When the Schirr corpses mysteriously disappear, one by one, so too do members of the training squad...

This novel is well timed to act as a follow-up to the recent release of The Smugglers on audio CD (see our Audio Books review section). Exactly how this story fits in between The Smugglers and Hartnell's final adventure The Tenth Planet is unclear, however, since one leads directly into the other. It is possible that the "coldest place in the world" where the First Doctor, Ben and Polly arrive at the end of The Smugglers is not the Antarctic location of The Tenth Planet after all. This is unlikely, though, since that description of the locale is repeated at the beginning of The Tenth Planet. I prefer to assume that Ten Little Aliens (and perhaps a plethora of other adventures) is set before the final TARDIS interior scene of The Smugglers.

The TARDIS crew that Stephen Cole has chosen to work with is a particular favourite of mine. Ben's cockney patter is brought to the fore during numerous scenes conveyed from the sailor's point of view. The writing of these scenes even takes on his characteristic turns of phrase, making reference, for example, to "a right array of bruisers", one of whom gets painfully kicked in his "jewels". "Birds" whom Ben encounters range from "dead tasty" to one with "a face like a bulldog licking tar off a nettle"!

We are also given close insights into the minds of other characters via webset devices that allow the trainee soldiers to record and share each other's experiences. A particularly inventive sequence takes the form of a role-playing narrative, during which the reader is guided through the viewpoints of various characters, frequently being given the chance to choose which perspective they wish to view.

Placing the First Doctor in the same story as a team of Starship Troopers-style trainees might seem like an odd mix, but it's not so different from the situation he faced in The Tenth Planet, when he had to contend with the pig-headed General Cutler. Here the Time Lord must work alongside the even more hard-nosed Marshal Haunt, the commander and instructor of the trainees. Her character has many more layers to it than Cutler's did, however.

Throughout the book, the author makes reference to the elderly Doctor's increasing frailty, setting the scene for his approaching regeneration.

Once established inside the asteroid, the novel sticks to this setting until its end, employing the tried and tested Doctor Who formula of placing characters in a confined area with no means of escape (access to the TARDIS is restricted by a force field). It takes perhaps a little too long for this creepy mystery to unfold, but Cole maintains the reader's interest by means of a palpable sense of imminent terror. This is augmented by the constant presence of tiny flea-like creatures, which hop all over the cavernous corridors and over the characters themselves.

Eight out of ten, then, for Cole's Little Aliens.

Richard McGinlay


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