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Salt of the Earth Review

Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on Trudi Canavan’s latest Time Trips story.

Doctor-Who-Salt-of-the-EarthIt’s interesting to note, before reading Salt of the Earth, that writer Trudi Canavan was actually conflicted in choosing the Doctor who would star in her e-book. After firing off a synopsis to the BBC they came back with the offbeat Third Doctor and while Australia is perhaps an anachronistic setting (they would have had to have mocked up the country in a quarry, no doubt) for his era (known for being largely confined to England – through the Time Lord’s exile) it undoubtedly works.

It’s disappointing to hear that Canavan would like to have used the Third Doctor’s first assistant, Liz Shaw (but through reasons regarding the plot this simply couldn’t work) as the companion as the late Caroline John’s character is heavily underused in prose. In spite of that it’s always nice to see the bubbly Jo Grant at work and here the author captures her buoyancy and determination nicely. Her relationship with the Third Doctor – a personal favourite of mine – is reproduced well and I can clearly hear Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning’s voices in the dialogue.

The Doctor and Jo pitch down on one of Australia’s many salt lakes, long since dried up and an eye-watering feast for the eyes, and instantly set about erecting blokarts. For those who don’t know what a blokart is (I didn’t when I first read the plot digest), it’s a sort-of reclining bike with a sail that allows you to ride around open spaces without pedalling or using fuel. The Third Doctor has always had a taste for elaborate vehicles so it’s not hard imagining him zooming around in a blokart (a modern invention so Canavan has brought her story to 2028, the future around the corner). Almost as soon as they arrive they spot figures made of salt peppered around and sure enough, something is up.

Salt of the Earth is the shortest in the line of Time Trips e-books so the amount of characters has been doubly clipped. A woman called Sun Williamson – or Sunny – assists the pair, happily answering all their – and the audience’s – questions and serving as a taxi service, escorting them from place to place. Williamson is a likeable enough character but she does little more than what is required with not all that much development. The other new character is a dog called Smithy. That’s all you need to know about him.

One of my problems with this Time Trips series is that the antagonists are almost after thoughts. With such few words to tell a story it must be hard for the authors so you can’t really blame them. Here, the villain behind the distorted salt sculptures is clichéd, not anything especially interesting or sophisticated, just a generic sci-fi adversary. They’re disposed with haste and in The Power of Three-like circumstance.

Where Salt of the Earth fails it makes up for in its almost educational subject. Because the whole thing is centred around salt, I found myself learning a lot about the industry and all types of maladies that can affect the substance itself. So if you don’t like the rather basic plot then you’ll almost certainly come away enlightened on the topic.

Verdict: 8/10

Another 8/10-er, another month. The Time Trips series has yet to churn out an e-book that has properly bowled me away; the past three have been fun, enjoyable but absolutely nothing special. Trudi Canavan’s Salt of the Earth is the same. Here’s hoping Jake Arnott’s Sixth Doctor and Peri story next time will be something really good.

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