Doctor Who: The American Adventures by Justin Richards
My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes
Date Published: October 25th, 2016
Publisher: Penguin Random House (UK)
Pages: 192 pages
Synopsis: Travel through time and space with the Twelfth Doctor in these six brand new adventures, set in a host of locations across the US and eras from throughout US history.
An invisible spacecraft turns up at the Battle of New Orleans, an alien presence is detected at the 1944 D-Day landings, and ghosts take over New York’s subway tunnels as they’re being dug in the early 1900s…
Filled with mystery, excitement and the Doctor’s trademark wit, these timeywimey stories will delight any Doctor Who fan.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
I always love reading any Doctor Who tie-in stories, especially when we are all anxiously waiting for a new season to be released. I have also read a number of Doctor Who novels authored by Justin Richards, and I tend to consistently enjoy his writing style and his depictions of the various Doctors over the years. This is only my second experience with stories written about Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, and I had a fun time reading these short tales of his adventures. While this is targeted at a younger audience, I still feel that this book is something that can be universally enjoyed by Whovians of all ages.
These stories follow the Doctor’s journeys through various notable time periods in American history, as well as in present day America. Because of that, I found it to be a very unique read due to the fact that he is somewhat rarely portrayed traveling through the United States, particularly in the tie-in novels. It was great to see how he insert himself into many historical moments that I grew up learning about.
Though this was not the best collection of stories and I had very mixed feelings about them, I still found them to be solidly written. Creating a compelling story in a very small number of pages is incredibly difficult—it is an entire art in itself. There is not much time to flesh out the plot and the characters. This can make everything feel very rushed, as well as make characters come across as being a little bit flat. I found this to be somewhat true of this collection at times, but overall, I think Richards did a decent job with the length of each text.
Richards’ writing itself was a high point for me. His narration style is very fluid and not at all hard to find yourself getting pulled into. It is wonderful to see these skills in the tie-in stories, as they are generally simple reads, still composed using quality storytelling. I have found—in my personal experience with his work—that Richards’ is also a master at capturing the personality of whichever Doctor he is writing about. Even in this shorter format, it truly feels similar to watching an episode starring the twelfth doctor.
Now, I’ll talk about each individual story and my feelings on them. This will also remain spoiler-free.
All That Glitters (Rating: 3/5)
This story takes place in California, 1849, during the gold rush. Josh Langham is panning for gold in the Sacramento River when finds an odd metallic object. As he begins to pick it up, fatigue overtakes him and he passes out. Suddenly, he begins terrorizing the nearby town and townspeople, breaking in to homes and attacking his people who have all known him as a kind and gentle man. We follow the Doctor as he attempts to figure out what has caused Josh to act in this most unusual way.
I found this story to be just alright. It was a very simple plotline without much action, so it felt a little too slow-paced for my liking. Despite this, it was still intriguing to read, and there was a good amount of mystery. The build-up was a bit too much compared to how the story ultimately ended, but it was a decent read.
Off the Trail (Rating: 3.75/5)
The Doctor finds himself on the Oregon Trail, 1846, in this story. Hattie and her family are traveling the Oregon Trail in a large wagon train when suddenly, they begin to encounter strange noises and unnerving sightings of a creature outside their wagon one night. When they emerge the next morning, they find themselves exactly where they were but completely alone—the other parties in the wagon train have disappeared without a trace. It’s up to the Doctor to rescue the family from a deadly enemy and return them to the missing train.
I liked this story quite a bit—I think that it was my second favorite of the collection. I’ve always enjoyed stories about the Oregon Trail, and this science fiction twist was very captivating. Richards did a good job of building up the suspense to a heart-pounding climax. This story was also one of the more fleshed out ones in terms of both the setting and the characters. Everything was well-described, and I feel that he really utilized his writing talent to create a developed story in a short amount of time. Overall, it didn’t completely blow me away, but it was still a fascinating and unique narrative that I would have loved to see as an actual episode of the show.
Ghosts of New York (Rating: 4.5/5)
Taking place in New York City, 1902, this was by far my favorite of the short stories. This story involves the construction of the New York City subway tunnels, with a nice helping of ghostly activity. Soon after a tunnel roof collapses, killing three workers, a man named Pete begins seeing the ghost of one of his deceased coworkers. Other workers begin to experience this strange paranormal phenomenon as well. Then, of course, the Doctor swoops in, ready to discover the source that is causing these ethereal figures to appear. With many of the other workers too afraid to follow him, only a young man named Tom is brave enough to join in the quest for answers.
I absolutely loved this story. Anything containing ghosts and spookiness is right up my alley. One of the interesting realizations I had while reading this one was that the side character and the Doctor were much more well-developed. This may be due in part to the fact that there is only one sidekick on this particular mission. The only issue I had with the plot was that, when they found the source causing the ghosts to appear, it was not very well explained—I had an extremely hard time picturing it in my head. Nonetheless, this was an absolutely fantastic story and I very much enjoyed it.
Taking the Plunge (Rating: 3/5)
The Doctor comes into the present day in this story that takes place in Florida, 2017. Strolling through a theme park named Adventure World, the Doctor is simply people-watching when he comes across some peculiar occurrences. He meets a family as they first come into the park—two parents and their highly energetic and excited son. They are headed to the popular ride, “Space Plunge”. But when he runs into them again coming back from the ride, they have lost all energy, and look tired and empty. It’s time for the Doctor to inspect “Space Plunge”, and figure out what is sapping the liveliness out of all of its riders.
Though it was not one of my favorites, I still quite enjoyed this story. It was fairly unique and unpredictable in many ways. However, this was one story were the length really was a detriment to the plot. It felt as though not much happened, and that the problem was solved far too easily. This is a story that could have been expanded upon a lot and made into a more complex tale. I think it was just not right for this format, but I still liked aspects of it.
Spectator Sport (Rating: 2.5/5)
Set in New Orleans, 1815, this was unfortunately one of the stories that fell a bit flat for me. The Doctor lands the TARDIS during the Battle of New Orleans, and watches from the sidelines, upset at the idea of humans waging war against each other. All of a sudden, a woman using a perception filter comes rushing up to where he stands on a hill, stating that she has been looking for him all over. She takes him back to what she calls the “safe area”, which turns out to be a ship where people travel back in time in order to watch various battles throughout history.
This story was my least favorite—I found it rather hard to get in to and I did not like the idea of the plot. Not that much really happened, aside from the Doctor reprimanding everyone for getting enjoyment out of the fighting. Of course, there was a bit more depth to the plot other than that, with an assassin being loose on the ship, but this did not take up enough of the story. I could see the potential in this narrative, but is just didn’t reach it.
Base of Operations (Rating: 2.5/5)
Transpiring in the United States, 1944, this story just did not click with me, and unfortunately ended the collection on a slightly sour note. This story is set on an army base during World War II, right before the D-Day landings in Normandy. The TARDIS picks up signs of a rouge transmat system coming from inside the base, and he decides to infiltrate it in order to find the source. Along the way, he encounters some unusual activity, and finds out that not everyone within these walls is who—or what—they appear to be.
I’m not quite sure exactly what it was about this story, but I had a hard time getting into it. I wasn’t particularly interested in most of the characters and the story felt far too rushed. Once again, it was too expansive a topic to try to cover in a story as short as this one. The aliens were sort of interesting, but again, there was not enough time to really connect with the story and understand them. It was not bad by any means, but I just personally didn’t get quite as much enjoyment out of it.
Overall, I am very glad that I had the chance to read these stories. Despite my tepid feelings when it came to parts of it, this book was still great for a Whovian like myself. I also love seeing authors producing stories for a younger generation of fans. All the novels are relatively easy and straightforward reads, but this one is particularly well suited for early readers.
Richards fluidly sweeps readers up into the action-packed adventures and quirky antics of the Doctor, and I think these short stories make the show and the characters widely accessible, and will draw in more of a following that will stay strong through all the coming years of the show.