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A Handful of Stardust Review

Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on Jake Arnott’s Time Trips story.

Doctor-Who-A-Handful-of-StardustThe word-count of the Time Trips series has been something rather odd. It’s flexible, clearly, because past instalments have ranged in length, from just over 20,000 to just under 10,000 – it’s a sizable difference. Either BBC Books have been inconsistent in fixing word limits for the authors or the authors haven’t been able to churn out all that much (if I wrote a Doctor Who book it would be thicker than the Bible and a dictionary combined).

This month’s author, Jake Arnott – whom I hadn’t heard of before this series – has a very succinct story lined up for us. He picked the Sixth Doctor and Peri duo and decided to drop them into the sixteenth century (quite the contrast from Salt of the Earth, which was set in the near future). The result is passable, amiable fun but it’s one of the most transient e-books I’ve ever read.

That’s probably not the best compliment to pay Arnott but his story just isn’t all that memorable. It isn’t dull, Arnott keeps everyone on their toes but the villain(s’) – who I will refrain from naming largely because it’s the biggest surprise in A Handful of Stardust – scheme is wholly unconvincing and the supporting characters are pretty standard. This is excluding the two historical figures Arnott has decided to throw into the mix: John Dee and Thomas Digges.

No bells ringing? Well, I was in the same position as you before I sat down to read A Handful of Stardust but then after a bit of research and exposure Dee and Digges’ work is engrossing. He was an adviser to the Tenth Doctor’s missus, Elizabeth I, an astrologist, an occultist, an alchemist and an imperialist. It’s safe to say he was quite a dark fellow, reading from the history books that is.

Arnott portrays Dee as an affable, occasionally uppity man with a thirst for knowledge, who doesn’t actually question the TARDIS’ vast interior and who warms to the Doctor quickly. The pair are very similar, even continuing a joke about them both being doctors and Arnott himself said that Dee would make a good Time Lord.

The Doctor is well written, too: he’s buoyant, lively but there aren’t any shades of his occasional fury, his capriciousness. Still, it’s definitely Colin Baker’s incarnation there so that’s a plus. Peri, on the other hand, is almost overdone. Peri was never too American. Yes, she had the accent (courtesy of Nicola Bryant, born and bred in Guildford) but that was about it and her origins were rarely touched upon. Arnott adds a bit too many American colloquialisms to Peri, not making her especially true to the character in the television series. However, her background is explored a bit more. Back in America Peri was majoring in botany but that fact was brushed under the carpet quickly in the TV show. Here, Arnott drags it back out with good reason and there are some nice reflections made by Peri. She also hits off with Thomas rather quickly and he starts to go about moony around young “Perpugilliam”.

The alien threat isn’t really tangible and the resolution is a simple matter of pressing a button and throwing a few switches so this is what lets A Handful of Stardust down in the end. Good characterisation of the Doctor and Peri and interesting antagonists are let down by a substandard plot and a duff resolution.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Next month we have Cecelia Ahern, an authoress known for her romantic novels, so it’ll be interesting to see how she tackles the Tenth Doctor. With a background such as Ahern’s will Rose be the companion? Who knows, it’s only a month away.

As with my 11 Doctors, 11 Stories reviews, I thought I’d list each of the Time Trips series from best to worst (although they’ve all been good in their own little ways):

  1. Jenny Colgan – the Eleventh Doctor – Into the Nowhere.
  2. Nick Harkaway – the Tenth Doctor – Keeping Up with the Joneses.
  3. A.L. Kennedy – the Fourth Doctor – The Death Pit.
  4. Trudi Canavan – the Third Doctor – Salt of the Earth.
  5. Jake Arnott – the Sixth Doctor – A Handful of Stardust.
Step back in time...

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12 comments
ConradWesleyClough
ConradWesleyClough

I'd switch 3 and 4 on your list at the end, but otherwise agree with it so far.


ilyootha is in the Divergent Universe
ilyootha is in the Divergent Universe

Thanks for the review. The plot sounds unpromising, so I probably won't like this e-book, but I'm planning to read all the Time Trips regardless, because on the whole this series really sounds interesting.

John Dee, eh? Haha, just two days ago I've finished reading the novel Birthright, where the main villain was taking up different alias and appearances throughout Earth's history, with John Dee being one of them, in his ever-unsuccessful quest to capture the Doctor's TARDIS! Dee warming to the Doctor and not trying to take over his TARDIS in this e-book creates a little bit of a continuity problem, but, hey, who cares? I've dealt with far worse conflicts.

(By the way, in the end of the abovementioned Birthright there is a scene where an implied future Doctor ends his conversation with the current Doctor with the words “Who knows, Doctor? Who knows?” And this is already the fourth reference to the novels that I counted in The Day of the Doctor.)






Gustaff
Gustaff

Pity about the resolution. 


here's hoping Colin Baker or Nicola Bryant are asked to do the audiobook, should one come along.

Ninjauthor
Ninjauthor

I've never heard anyone use the word authoress before

Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh
Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh

I really have enjoyed this series. I just wish the stories were available in non e-book form! Also, I thought each Doctor only got one story. 10 gets two?

The Finn
The Finn

Sounds very interesting. Thank you PK-S for this review!

Creepy_Ghoul
Creepy_Ghoul

@Gustaff I've always thought of the actors doing an audio adaptation of "Prisoners of Time". Imagine how nostalgic that would be.

PK-S
PK-S

@Ninjauthor  I quite like it. It's a bit dated and I've had a look around and it's not derogatory so, well, you learn a new word every day :-)

Eternalitis
Eternalitis

"The term exists but it's considered "old-fashioned, sexist and patronising", as it says in my dictionary".

So I guess it is a word after all... Whodathoughtit?

PK-S
PK-S

@Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh  I thought the same. But the authors were told to pick their favourite Doctor and write for him and if Nick Harkaway and Cecelia Ahern both like Ten, I don't really see the harm in it. Better to have them both write comfortably then have them poorly depict a Doctor they are not all that keen on. Joanne Harris, later in the year, is writing for the Third Doctor and we've already had him before, too. I do wish One, Two, Five, Seven, Eight and Nine had their own respective stories, however.