A Handful of Stardust Review

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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.