Doctor Who: Spore Review

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Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on the 8th Doctor 50th anniversary short story.

alex-scarrow-sporeYou really have to feel a bit sorry for Alex Scarrow (or as I like to call him Alex Skaro). He’s been assigned to the Eighth Doctor, the one-hit wonder born of The TV Movie: the incredibly schismatic first and last outing of Paul McGann’s much pined for Time Lord. With only one hour and a half of televised material to go on, Scarrow’s Eighth Doctor ends up feeling more like the Sixth Doctor with a bit of the Third and Fourth thrown in for good measure. I get the feeling that Scarrow only used The TV Movie for research and that he didn’t dip his toe into the Big Finish audio adventures although when I interviewed him a few weeks ago he said otherwise:

“I did [listen to Big Finish stories]. I’ve really enjoyed some of those audio dramas. I also liked the way Paul McGann has developed the character to feel older, darker…more haunted. There’s something of the ‘lost soul’ about the Eighth Doctor and Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor that appeals to me.”

Spore is enjoyable, and although it may not be the best in the series (that title changes every month) it’s got some sturdy ideas thrown in that make a worthwhile read.

Spore starts off with the Doctor pitching down in the Nevada Desert in the fifties, supposedly tracking a probe, where he finds the local area in lockdown, a nearby town: Fort Casey has come under threat from a mysterious plague. The concept of an alien seed from space was one used in the magnificent Fourth Doctor tour de force, The Seeds of Doom and here, in Spore, it is reworked into something far more sophisticated. The eponymous spore isn’t a Krynoid, per se (it’s not a cumbersome green monster, stumbling around infecting everyone that it comes into contact with); it’s a far more innovative creation. Much like a traditional B-movie schlock horror film, Spore has everyone (and all organic matter) in Fort Casey transform into oozy black gunk, all because of this intergalactic virus. Some of the imagery Scarrow uses is really horrific and Spore is certainly the darkest (The Ripple Effect takes the crown for psychological horror; Spore for physical horror) e-book we’ve had so far (thankfully, you’ll be glad to hear I won’t be saying that in next month’s adrenaline-pumped story).

Technically speaking the Eighth Doctor has only had one televised companion (two at a push) and Dr. Grace Holloway chose not to travel with him in the coda of The TV Movie so Scarrow also has the bittersweet job of crafting his own assistant (I say “bittersweet” because although it’s fun making your own companion up, it’s not as good as writing an official aide). Captain Evelyn Chan is our middleman for this outing and I’m saddened to say, she’s nothing special. The Doctor ventures into the quarantined area and discovers a lone soldier, abandoned after her colleagues got infected. Chan does nothing but ask questions we already know the answers to and although her characterisation is fine, she isn’t a big deal and doesn’t get much to do. Captain Chan is introduced a quarter of the way through giving her so little time to develop. I feel that Alex Scarrow should have used the Big Finish companions Lucie Miller or Charley Pollard (I’m not entirely benighted on the audios) and readers who hadn’t listened to some of their stories could just get a little bit of background information throughout the story, explaining who they where, rather than inserting a brand new assistant.

As I said before, poor old Alex Scarrow had a tough job writing his Eighth Doctor novella and the result of this is a protagonist that doesn’t feel like the (half – sorry) Time Lord we saw in The TV Movie. Admittedly I don’t even know what the Eighth Doctor felt like – we saw so little of him it’s hard to point out any distinguishing traits – but still the character portrayed here feels like the Sixth Doctor without the sardonicism. Nevertheless the Spore Doctor is an immensely likeable character and he has quite a bit of interior monologue that’s interesting to listen to. He’s almost like the Eighth Doctor but Scarrow seems to be missing a trick, however you can’t blame the author, he had so little to go on.

Verdict: 8/10

Alex Scarrow tried, he really did, and a lot of things in Spore well and truly worked but characterisation is essential in this series (from my perspective); which is why I’ve marked the eighth e-book down two points. Evelyn Chan is a character I wish we had seen more of and then maybe she would have grown on me. There are a few sly references peppered throughout the pages and keep an eye out for a certain major’s surname, and the reason why the Eighth Doctor sports an old-fashioned morning jacket (Grace did it once). This Puffin series has been largely successful; if you count up all the hits and duds, you’ll find the majority is in the series’ favour. We now depart the classic series and into the revived series with three authors that’ll blow your socks of… I hope.

As I did last month, I’ve had a glance over a few of the e-books (even A Big Hand For The Doctor) and am rejigging the list again. I’ve even discovered a couple of understated classics.

  1. Richelle Mead – the Sixth Doctor – Something Borrowed
  2. Marcus Sedgwick – the Third Doctor – The Spear of Destiny
  3. Malorie Blackman – the Seventh Doctor – The Ripple Effect
  4. Michael Scott – the Second Doctor – The Nameless City
  5. Alex Scarrow – the Eighth Doctor – Spore
  6. Philip Reeve – the Fourth Doctor – The Roots of Evil
  7. Eoin Colfer – the First Doctor – A Big Hand For The Doctor
  8. Patrick Ness – the Fifth Doctor – Tip of the Tongue

Catch-up on past reviews:

Spore is released on Friday 23rd August 2013.