Keeping Up With The Joneses Review
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on Nick Harkaway’s latest Time Trips story.
If you’re a puzzled naïf like myself and you had no idea that ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is a popular phrase meaning, ‘try to maintain the same social and material standards as one’s friends or neighbors’ then welcome to the club. When the title was announced for Nick Harkaway’s thoroughly enjoyable Tenth Doctor romp my mind instantly jumped to the conclusion it’d be an adventure shared with medical student Martha Jones. I was miles away from the truth.
Keeping Up with the Joneses is set in a Welsh village called Jonestown with the Doctor going by the name of John Jones, populated by people like Arwen Jones. The weak link in this obvious theme is a young widow called Christina de Souza. Last ‘seen’ in the ludicrously underrated Planet of the Dead, de Souza is the Doctor’s companion for Keeping Up with the Joneses and although she helps out in asking all the necessary exposition questions she’s not a companion in the conventional sense. I shan’t spoil some of the revelations in store because you’re certainly in for a treat.
One would expect the TARDIS to materialise in Jonestown, perhaps in an alley (the Doctor has a penchant for them) or a field but no, not in this case. Rather than landing in Jonestown the TARDIS lands on Jonestown. And when it happens the Doctor just so happens to be in the Hungarian bathroom brushing his teeth (“He didn’t actually need to brush his teeth – his body didn’t allow the sort of decay toothbrushes were supposed to prevent – but he liked to do it anyway because he enjoyed the mintiness frothing over his tongue and out of his mouth. It was like a carwash for the tonsils.”) Keeping Up with the Joneses is full of delightful little references – triple brownie points to whoever spots the nod to the late great Iain Banks – and it reminds me of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS in more than one respect. When the TARDIS ‘lands’ on Jonestown it becomes a part of it so the Doctor and Christina find themselves dashing through this sleepy little township opening doors here and there and finding themselves in the console room or the TARDIS’ expansive library.
Having the TARDIS actually spread itself across a village is an ingenious idea but every good story needs some kind of antagonist and this is a sinister storm cloud thundering through the ship’s corridors. While not being the most memorable or evil of villains the storm certainly proves a violent terror for the Doctor and Christina to run from.
Harkaway had a clear vision when he set out to writing Keeping Up with the Joneses, that much is obvious, and it’s to explore the Tenth Doctor as a character more. While we don’t get quite such an insight into the darker Time Lord Victorious (the Doctor recognises Christina so naturally this is set post-Planet of the Dead although it could be between the aforesaid story and The Waters of Mars) we see a whole lot more of the Doctor’s endless waffling on about the most irrelevant things. He’s forever running a hand through his hair or stuttering ‘well’ or grabbing people’s hands and shouting, ‘allons-y!’ then speeding off at breakneck speed; it’s typically the Tenth Doctor so in terms of characterisation Harkaway nails his tics and mannerisms on the head.
Unfortunately Keeping Up with the Joneses is not without its faults. Occasionally the whole thing gets a bit too confusing to the point where you think it’d put a basic Steven Moffat script to shame. The story feels like something that’d come across beautifully on screen but on paper it’s a bit cluttered at times.
Nonetheless Keeping Up with the Jones is an amiable quirky story (Harkaway managed to coax the BBC into letting him away with an extended length, which is in no way a bad thing as there’s lots to clear up) that’s bound to keep your attention. If everything gets a bit too bizarre and bewildering then there are a more than a few very amusing gags courtesy of the erstwhile Tenth Doctor’s gob.
Next time in the Time Trips series we’ll be heading down under for some blokarting with Jo, the Third Doctor (probably the Master) and Trudi Canavan, I look forward to it.