The Death Pit Review
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on Time Trips story, The Death Pit.
To kick off a series such as this and ultimately provide the first (and possibly most) evocative tale you must do a rather good job to try and keep people coming back for the next one. The task falls to A.L. Kennedy, a writer that quite a few people didn’t know (and I think there’s a low-lying prejudice with this, that because not everyone may have heard of her she might not do the e-book justice), and she’s chosen to tackle the Fourth Doctor. And, rather unpredictably, hasn’t included a companion from the series. Considering she had seven years’ worth of assistants (although, in her own words, they got more irritating after Elisabeth Sladen. I’ve seen some – and myself – beg to differ) it’s surprising she didn’t choose anyway but Kennedy justifies herself as the book goes on. The Death Pit is a salute to the Fourth Doctor as a character, not an era and it’s very well done.
The main character isn’t the Fourth Doctor, however (Kennedy throws many curveballs) but instead a canny – and, when necessary, violent – receptionist named Bryony Mailer. Mailer is rather awestricken when she first encounters the mercurial Time Lord but takes an instant liking to him. She’s a hybrid of Donna, Tegan and Leela (an unconventional blend, I grant you), a wholly likeable, if occasionally annoying and physical aide. Then there’s Ian Patterson, a man that is, in essence, Kamelion and Ian Chesterton slapped into one all thumbs mixture; he’s well meaning but ungainly and subject to unrequited love. Kennedy has used Mailer and Patterson because, I find, she needed someone for the Fourth Doctor to spill out all his plans to. Nonetheless the Doctor spends the majority of his time talking to himself and that’s where the e-book really shines.
Eoin Colfer experimented with an interior monologue for the First Doctor [in A Big Hand For The Doctor] and it didn’t work. Alex Scarrow tried doing it for the Eighth Doctor [in Spore] and it worked for the most part. The Fourth Doctor seems ideal for this, rambling on and on in his mind, ‘searching’ through his memories for the necessary information and contemplating things completely off the point. It’s like Kennedy has opened a window into his head and we’re watching it, watching the multicoloured and outré cogs in there go round. Some of the descriptions are also absolutely spot on (“he seemed somehow like her oldest friend, like a wonderful relative she’d heard a lot about but never met”). The Death Pit really is the essential guide to the Fourth Doctor’s mind.
Antagonist-wise The Death Pit doesn’t really have a central malfeasant other than what lurks beneath the pit itself. Of course there has to be something in humanoid form that the Doctor can interact with and this is a supercilious golfer who shall remain nameless (his proper title is a barefaced nod to a certain Baker era writer). He’s your typical egotist but one that shan’t be messed with. There’s also a properly scary swimming pool scene that really sent a chill down my spine. It even trumps Paradise Towers’ ‘Mel moment’.
Naturally I have quibbles – the lack of TARDIS action, the lack of the Doctor as the central character (although you get used to it), the unresolved and, in parts, unsatisfying plot strands – but as a whole The Death Pit really works well. Next month it’s Jenny Colgan following up her modern classic Dark Horizons with Into the Nowhere featuring Clara (in her second literary appearance) and the Eleventh Doctor. But can Colgan beat Kennedy?