Doctor Who
Eater of Wasps

Author: Trevor Baxendale
BBC Books
5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53832 5
Available now

The Eighth Doctor, Fitz and Anji arrive in the sleepy English village of Marpling in 1933, but they are not the only time-travellers in the area. A group of temporal commandos is attempting to locate a deadly weapon from the far future. However, they are too late to prevent the weapon from mutating a nest of wasps into terrifying parasitic killers...

Where would Doctor Who be without that stock-in-trade, the sleepy English village? It is true that the TARDIS has materialised in more than its fair share of such locations, but the setting does offer a pleasing sense of familiarity. Marpling comes complete with readily identifiable characters, from its ageing war veteran to its resident gossip, all of which make for leisurely page-turning. However, only the latter character - Miss Havers - truly falls into the category of stereotype, and she is a decidedly amusing one.

Threatening the tranquillity of the village are the wasps. Stinging insects of all kinds must surely send shivers down the spines of most of us, which is precisely why killer bees have inspired cult horror movies and numerous episodes of The X-Files. Baxendale taps into those same primal fears as he has wasps enveloping windowpanes, smothering helpless human victims, and invading their noses and mouths... ugh! As in the TV story The Ark in Space, the gruesome human-to-insect transformations of The Fly movies are also evoked.

The anachronistic presence of the commandos disturbs the period atmosphere somewhat, but they nevertheless add an extra layer of danger as they threaten to eradicate the village should their plan to safely retrieve the weapon fail. Distinct similarities exist between this group and the time-travelling freedom fighters from the TV serial The Day of the Daleks. In either case, the team is led by a level-headed female field officer, with a more trigger-happy male subordinate, while another member of Baxendale's taskforce puts an inventive spin on the suicidal tendencies of the freedom fighter, Shura. These various levels of familiarity do not mean that this novel is entirely predictable, however. In fact, the author manages to pull off several shocking and surprising developments with regard to the fates of certain characters. One moment in particular picks up a plot strand that has been toyed with intermittently during the novel series, ever since the Eighth Doctor's nervous breakdown in The Ancestor Cell. As previously hinted in The Burning, Endgame and Escape Velocity, this post-trauma Doctor shows a worrying tendency for callousness, at times even violence, which now causes concern for his companions.

There are plenty of stings, as well as zing, in this particular tale.

Richard McGinlay