The Spear of Destiny Review
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on the third 50th anniversary short story.
The BBC’s Fiftieth Anniversary eBook series has been hit with mixed reviews. The general consensus on Eoin Colfer’s A Big Hand For The Doctor was altogether negative whilst Michael Scott’s Second Doctor yarn, The Nameless City was praised more than its predecessor. Marcus Sedgwick’s The Spear of Destiny may be feeble in terms of plot strength but it still appeals more than the equally weak duo that preceded it. Sedgwick really has pinned down the characterization of Jo Grant and the Third Doctor and that is probably where its charm lies. If you excuse the minor plot holes then you’ve got yourself a great tale.
At the beginning of March I had a vague idea of who Marcus Sedgwick was, having seen his name appear in bookshops and libraries. Now having spoken with the man and reading much of his works – Midwinterblood, My Swordhand Is Singing – I have a clearer, you could say predilection for him. His novels such as My Swordhand Is Singing all incorporate such fantastical ideas; I had high hopes for The Spear of Destiny. When a video of him speaking about past experiences with Doctor Who surfaced, I knew the BBC has gotten hold of a true Whovian. Here’s Marcus talking about his fiftieth anniversary eShort, The Spear of Destiny:
Jon Pertwee was my first Doctor. The first incarnation of the Time Lord I ever saw. My initial impression of the entire show was based around this gentleman. An alien dandy that cruised around Earth in a yellow roadster, working for an organisation that fights hostile extraterrestrials accompanied by assistants; I adored Jon’s style. The Pertwee era is the reason why I love Earth-based stories (see my debate with Thomas Capon) and the reason why I am here today writing reviews for you. I owe a lot to the man and Sedgwick managed to form a literary duplicate of him. After reading The Spear of Destiny, I now hold Marcus Sedgwick in very high regard.
Interests’ piqued by an unusual artefact, the Third Doctor and Jo Grant journey across London to its residence in a mysterious billionaire’s gallery. They arrive to discover Gungnir; an ancient spear from the Viking era is the subject of odd temporal anomalies. Eager to get a good glance at it, the Doctor and Jo return to purloin the treasure that evening via the TARDIS. The story gets off at a cracking pace, with corridor chases, machinegun-toting guards and from the off it is clear Sedgwick knows the Pertwee era very well. His characterisation of the Third Doctor is spot on, utilizing such monuments as U.N.I.T and the vintage automobile, Bessie whilst the dialogue is copybook Pertwee. The Time Lord spouts all his trademark idiosyncrasies – “chap”, “old girl” and “my dear” so the portrayal of the nobleman is extremely well done. In plot terms however, the story sags a little.
When the Doctor and Jo fail to nab the spear they decide to travel to its place of origin, 141 AD. Rife with brutish Vikings, the pair are soon grabbed by the natives and the TARDIS is confiscated. The depiction of the thuggish traders is a smidge clichéd but then again Sedgwick only has cinematic representations to go on.
Meanwhile in the background, a sinister villain watches as events escalate for the Doctor and Jo. If you’re a big fan of this era, you, like me will guess the identity of this mystical antagonist rather quickly with no bother but even if you are not then there isn’t really a major surprise. The enigma surrounding the foe is almost a parody of its televisual counterpart (anagrams are a clue).
The plot may be full of holes – the core problem is resolved by a handy TARDIS ability – but Marcus Sedgwick’s The Spear of Destiny is an enjoyable romp that suits Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning down to the ground.
Final Verdict: 9/10
Earlier this month I had the chance to interview Marcus Sedgwick and get a preview of The Spear of Destiny. I have decided to include bits of the meeting that relate to Doctor Who in general.
Have you always been a fan of Doctor Who?
I’m more a fan of the classic era, I must admit; I’m of the age that I grew up with Doctor Who, and Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in particular. I don’t think they’ve ever been bettered in many ways though I love what Christopher Eccleston did in bringing the series back to our screens.
What about Pertwee’s incarnation enticed you to write for him?
Jon Pertwee was superb. He was both a man of action and a powerful intellectual force. He could be witty and silly at times but he was usually quite fierce, stern and grave. He had a wonderful, rich voice, which he used to great effect. When I was young I think I was a little bit scared of him too, like an old-fashioned schoolmaster, and yet somehow, one you liked deep down.
Marcus, if you had a TARDIS, where in the universe would you travel to and what monster would you fight once you got there?
That’s a great question. Where to start? Perhaps I’d go to St Petersburg in December 1916 to find out the truth behind the assassination of Rasputin. No monsters to fight there. Unless there’s something we don’t yet know about that night.
If you had to travel with one companion, from any Doctor, which one would you choose?