Tip of the Tongue Review

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Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on the fifth 50th anniversary short story.

doctor-who-tip-of-the-tongueI have lionized Patrick Ness since I was an infant; his grasp on the English language has always been one I adore. The Knife of Never Letting Go, his magnum opus has a special place on my bookshelf whilst his more recent adult novel, The Crane Wife is an emotive and impassioned piece. Ness is also a comedian on the social-networking Twitter, and his posts are oftentimes droll and jocular. I hold the penman in such high regard that I was acutely disappointed with his Doctor Who novella, Tip of the Tongue.

All Ness’ hallmarks were there, the exceptional writing standard; an intriguing tale and solid character development but this was all in relation to the supporting character. The central players: the valorous Fifth Doctor and his rational companion, Nyssa of Traken (the events of Tip of the Tongue come to pass between airhostess Tegan Jovanka’s temporary departure in Time-Flight and the following story, Arc of Infinity) take a near permanent backseat throughout the tale, watching from the sidelines. Maine youngsters, Jonny and Nettie are the Doctor and companion of Tip of the Tongue, providing a surrogate much like how the new series does it. Think Love & Monsters (the conceit that Elton is a non-regular bystander who encounters the Doctor) meet The Crimson Horror (the fact Clara and the Doctor crop up midway through the drama). These two are best friends in a small town throughout the brutal Second World War, providing moral support for one another. Just like playground children today get addicted to fads, Jonny acquires a ‘Truth Teller’ (the latest absurd trend) from Nettie. ‘Truth Teller’s are far more complicated than flimsy trading-cards or plastic collectables, they’re snakelike contraptions that you attach to the underside of your tongue and proceed to tell the truth for you. It’s an unnerving thought, and in a modern-day world, a ‘Truth Teller’ could easily twist friendships around and cause emotional chaos.

The enemies of this eShort series have each been distinct in their ideas but the Dipthodats were dull, and described as being “[a] pumpkin squirrel sheep fish”. Ness presumably thought up this illustration on the spot, because it’s as flimsy as a piece of paper.

Tip of the Tongue is a cracking good children’s book with a concept that could run on for two hundred plus pages, but the alien threat is glued onto the end, like Ness forgot about it. Nyssa and the Doctor are intentionally put to the side but in a story that is forty pages, and one that is supposed to be a bitesized adventure about the Doctor of the month, then you can’t afford to do this. Jonny and Nettie are amiable enough characters but there are new constructs, we would much rather have more of the Doctor and Nyssa.

Final Verdict: 6/10

These 50th Anniversary eShorts are consistently flawed and the authors that have been roped in clearly need to think about how much they can cram into a novella. Hopefully in next month’s unique (to this series) author, we might have something different. Eoin Colfer, and Patrick Ness (the two penmen who have dissatisfied me the most) are highly skilled in their profession but they clearly aren’t big enough fans of Doctor Who to produce a suitable story.

Tip of the Tongue is released on Thursday 23rd May 2013.