As many of you may know we are a team of Whovians so it only seemed suitable to start with a title that may be enjoyed by all of us. Oh boy, was I ever wrong about that. I never thought I could find a plot too outlandish even for the Doctor but here we are!
“It is the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the faces of the dead are everywhere. PC Reg Cranfield sees his recently deceased father in the mists along Totter s Lane. Reporter Mae Callon sees her late grandmother in a coffee stain on her desk. FBI Special Agent Warren Skeet finds his long-dead partner staring back at him from raindrops on a window pane. Then the faces begin to talk, and scream… and push through into our world. As the alien Shroud begins to feast on the grief of a world in mourning, can the Doctor dig deep enough into his own sorrow to save mankind?A thrilling new adventure from the spectacular BBC series, starring Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman.“
In this story the Doctor is accompanied by companion Clara Oswald. We don’t see much of them for the first fifth of the book or so, which is completely summarized in the back blurb as seen above. I noticed immediately that it seems to be structured like an actual episode of the show, which may seem like a good idea in theory but in practice read as scattered and unfocused. We are tossed around between brief explanations for half a dozen side characters as the ‘Shroud’ appears in liquid surfaces (ie. Spilt coffee on a characters arm turns into her dead grandmother, who then screams at her until the spill is smothered).
The Shroud is an alien creature that is first believed to be a group but is later determined to be one beast. It appears as the faces of dead loved ones to those who see it, at which point it begins feeding on their grief. Once it has a grip on their minds it takes to form of a woman covered by a blue veil that then holds their hands and takes control of the victims minds. They use bad memories to force them through the five stages of grief. Once the whole world has reached the stage of acceptance there is no turning back.
Here is where we get extra weird. Through the art of tossing about various switches and do-dads in the TARDIS it is determined that the Earth is sitting in one end of a wormhole and another planet is sitting in the other end. Here is where our story begins to split. We load The Doctor, Clara, and a couple civilians into an ambulance and make their way through several miles of the wormholes stomach before reaching the other planet, Semtis. Semtis is a snowy planet that has clearly already been decimated by the Shroud. Those who survived are split into separate tribes based on their emotional reactions to the attacks of the Shroud. Tremblers, Takers, and Ragers are cared for by those who were not affected by the Shroud, or have since recovered. How do they treat them? By kidnapping them, restraining them, and performing circus acts in front of them until they begin to laugh. Supposedly teaching them to experience joy again.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Now this might just be me, but it sounds a lot more like pushing them to insanity than helping them. When was the last time someone enjoyed being forced to watch dozens of clowns perform around them? What about those who were afraid of clowns before the attack? These are the kind of concepts that fuel nightmares. Oh, and while on this planet they are, at random, attacked by polar bears which seem to be the only other species on the planet.
By the time we return to Earth I had honestly completely forgotten about the first half of the book. We spend an extensive amount of time with the clowns saving individuals via a military clown parade and a bunch of pillow cases, until the Doctor realizes he needs to take on the Shroud himself (as these things usually turn out). I couldn’t stress more how disappointed I was at the wasted opportunity here. The Shroud attacked the Doctor’s mind by delving into his worst memories. Instead of writing a really touching bit on a couple companions here or there, Donbavand opts to spend nine whole pages name dropping random companions from over the decades of the show with no real context to what was happening. He mentions a whopping twenty-three companions, most of whom come from the classic series, meaning those only familiar with new Who would be completely lost at best. I myself am not very familiar with it so I had to do some googling just to verify if these people were companions or random side characters from past episodes.
The worst of these is the mentioning of Astrid Peth. She is mentioned here as well as in the beginning of the story when the Doctor initially encounters the Shroud. Here’s the problem. The Shroud selects someone near and dear to it’s victim in order to ensure optimal sadness. Why on Earth (or any other planet for that matter) would Astrid be that person? Yes, the Doctor was quite sad to see her pass. HOWEVER. She took part in one episode during the tenth Doctor’s time. The Doctor is now with Clara, meaning he has already experienced the loss of Amy, Rory, and countless others before and after Astrid who were FAR MORE SIGNIFICANT. This in combination with the name dropping tells me the Author simply isn’t well acquainted enough with the series to be publishing licensed Doctor Who material.
As the Doctor fights the Shroud our clown friends are inside the wormhole tying it’s mind tentacles together like balloon animals to restrain it. To finish it all off they jump into the TARDIS and drop the creature onto a planet made entirely of avocado bubble bath. End story.
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
Well folks, it certainly wasn’t what I expected. I’m not sure exactly what it was I was expecting but it definitely wasn’t a band of clowns saving the day. If any of the references were something a younger audience could understand I’d recommend it for preteen/teen-aged age group but the author delves to far into the complicated with no explanation, so it sits uncomfortably between being a kids book and a twisted adults horror concept.
Honourable mention goes to these lines that were too good not to mention here:
‘An injury that can talk! A wound with a view!’ – The Doctor
‘You’re going down to Clown Town!’ – Wobblebottom