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The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage Review

Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on the 10th Doctor 50th anniversary ebook.

Doctor-Who--The-Mystery-of-the-Haunted-Cottage-derek-landy

Personally, I’m going to be sad when these e-books come to an end next month. Puffin’s new project to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who has unlocked the fan in ten, soon to be eleven, wonderfully talented authors. Some have really spilled out their inner ‘Whovian’ onto the page (e.g. Michael Scott, Malorie Blackman, Alex Scarrow) whilst others have looked at it as simple publicity, not considering how much of a big deal it is to be commissioned to write for Doctor Who, be it a cracker-barrel e-book. The series – now officially called 11 Doctors, 11 Stories – could continue into next year, seeing as there are plenty of hidden Who fans out there, all I’m sure would be game to write a story. In a way, 11 Doctors, 11 Stories sort of is continuing. A new venture, not coordinated by Puffin, called Time Trips is on its way and the likes of Nick Harkaway, Trudi Canavan, A.L. Kennedy and returning alumni Jenny Colgan have signed up. I’m even more pleased to hear that Canavan and Kennedy are tackling two of the classic Doctors (the Third and Fourth for the curious). I’m looking forward to seeing the Time Trips novellas but I’ll still miss 11 Doctors, 11 Stories.

The penultimate author is Derek Landy, author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series and an established fan of the show (e.g. he misses Amy, he fancied Karen Gillan, he thought The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe was poor and that Richard E. Grant was underused in The Snowmen). His inclusion in this series seemed inevitable and his story, The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage is exactly what you’d expect: a heartfelt ode to David Tennant’s bubbly incarnation.

I’m thrilled that Landy used Martha as his companion. If he’d used Rose (Charlie Higson last month has already used her, in a way) then he would have had to add to their courtship and in such a small word-count everything has to be stripped down: plot, dialogue, character development. Donna would have been interesting but it seems Landy, as he put in his own words, has always “had a soft spot for unrequited love” and thus we end up with Martha. Upon first reading The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage I thought Landy had gotten Martha’s characterisation muddled but then I went off and watched some of her Series Three stories. Now I completely understand. Landy has gotten her quirks and mannerisms down to the ground although the Tenth Doctor is a bit shakier.

Landy loves the Tenth Doctor, that’s clear from page one. But perhaps he loves the Tenth Doctor a bit too much. The dialogue of David Tennant’s late incarnation hovers around the bullseye; it’s almost too exaggerated. I’m all for the Doctor maundering and babbling but Landy almost overeggs the tenth Time Lord’s prattling. Perhaps this is for the best – I’d much prefer this madcap, totally bonkers incarnation to an understated interpretation (if, say, Landy got it wrong and not overly right) who talks less and is an altogether more mellow character. It’s really down to your preference – I thought he was a big over-the-top but then that shows how much Landy loves the Tenth Doctor.

As soon as the appetite-whetting synopsis was released earlier this month speculation was rife that the Land of Fiction would make an appearance. Landy himself has confirmed the Land of Fiction isn’t the location of The Mystery of The Haunted Cottage. Surprisingly Landy didn’t know the aforesaid pocket universe existed and actually wrote half of the e-book before the BBC dropped him a line saying, “err… Derek, you might want to watch The Mind Robber.” I’m sure his reply contained some choice words of frustration. The world Landy has created is basically the Land of Fiction but with a creator (someone different to the Master of the Land of Fiction in the Second Doctor story I just mentioned) and I shan’t be giving away their identity – it’s not just the mystery of the haunted cottage you need to solve.

But ultimately what is most entertaining and engaging about The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage is the way Landy has interwoven fictional characters into the narrative. The story begins calmly with the TARDIS coming to land in generic English countryside. The Doctor and Martha soon encounter a group of children who the latter quickly identifies as ‘the Troubleseekers’, young sleuths who solved mysteries through the pages of Martha’s childhood books. Naturally the Doctor is perplexed and the pair gallivant off, finding themselves caught up in the mystery. The Troubleseekers are rip-offs of the Famous Five and Secret Seven series (something Landy, through the Doctor, directly acknowledges) and so the eponymous mystery is deliberately simple. There’re spooky lights in the woods frightening off local residents, a quintessential English picnic, smugglers and all sorts of other wonderful clichés. Landy embraces the sheer duh-isn’t-it-obviousness of Enid Blyton and writers of her ilk’s novels, even addressing the political incorrectness of those types of books (I’m not bashing Blyton or other 50s kids’ mystery books; I love a fun old-fashioned adventure).

The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage really comes into its own halfway through when Landy abandons all sense and just lets his inner fan gush onto the pages, becoming a tsunami, to some degree. I won’t spoil what happens but honestly it’s everything you could wish for in a pseudo-Land of Fiction.

Verdict: 9/10

After the consummate outing last month, The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage had some big boots to fill but Derek Landy’s fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable romp through fiction has set the bar equally high and he – along with Marcus Sedgwick, Philip Reeve, Richelle Mead, Alex Scarrow and Charlie Higson – most certainly deserve to return and write a much longer adventure.

Occasionally I like to go back and revisit each individual story in 11 Doctors, 11 Stories, trying to discover overlooked gems. At present I haven’t found anything wrongly placed but Eoin Colfer’s A Big Hand For The Doctor isn’t all that bad. Colfer didn’t try and echo the First Doctor’s era, instead giving us another side to the character previously unseen. Something I’ve always been considerate of in these stories is the way they’ve reflected the monthly era and A Big Hand For The Doctor was completely different. That doesn’t mean it’s completely bad (you could say this of Tip of the Tongue but my main argument there is that the Fifth Doctor wasn’t actually in it, something crucial I find).

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

 Catch-up on past reviews:

The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage is released on Wednesday 23rd October 2013.

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