Doctor Who: Dark Horizons
Written by J T Colgan
Read by Neve McIntosh
This audio book is an unabridged reading of the latest release in BBC Books adult Who range. Set after the Wedding of River Song, the Doctor is travelling alone and taking a holiday on the Isle of Lewis in the middle of the Dark Ages. His arrival coincides with the appearance of a Viking ship engulfed in waterborne flames, and the Doctor is soon brokering peace between the travellers and the islanders while also uncovering the mystery of the fire.
After several uneven releases in the main novel range, this book hits the sweet spot with well realised characters, a fascinating setting and a very different villain from those the Doctor usually faces. With a high body count (and plenty of gruesome deaths) the fates of the supporting characters are very much in the balance, and you genuinely care whether they live or die. And for once, events do not go the way the Doctor intends.
As a result, we find the Time Lord in a more reflective mood, and in a time before technology, he only has the Tardis and his Sonic Screwdriver (which we discover does come with a few arcane settings) to lean on. In one thrilling sequence, the Tardis gives chase to a Viking longship, with the Doctor eventually materialising the ship on board the moving vessel.
For a period piece, there are a few anachronisms. One Viking calls the Doctor ‘Sir’ and several give heights and distances in metres. These are all the more puzzling given that we’re told there is no word for Tardis Blue in this time. And when the islanders face slow starvation, it is hard to care with the knowledge that the Doctor could manufacture food for them all in the Tardis.
Once the Doctor meets the force behind the mysterious fire, the story does start to recall James Cameron’s film The Abyss, though the image of the Doctor in a Victorian diving suit keeps even this moment fresh. But this comes less than halfway through the book, and the story goes on to follow some original and ?harrowing directions, with a very strange but charming cameo which will thrill fans.
Neve McIntosh narrates the story in a deep but clear Scottish accent, which suits the setting of the book well. Her delivery in the scenes of high action and emotion really help these to come alive. Sound and music cues are sparse, but the writing is so good that neither McIntosh, nor the listener, need more.
This is Colgan’s first Who novel, and she reportedly has a strong idea for a second. Let’s hope BBC Books commission her quickly, and that AudioGo can produce another wholly immersive reading.