Book Review: Doctor Who: Shroud of Sorrow by Tommy Donbavand

Adult science fiction show reduced to novel aimed at simpler audience.
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"PC Reg Cranfield turned the corner into Totter's Lane, the beam of his torch slicing through the fog.  It was a thick one tonight, what his dad would have referred to as a 'real pea souper', had he still been alive to say it."

That's how the first Doctor Who book I've read in over 20 years starts. The latest release from Broadway Paperbacks is written by Tommy Donbavand and entitled Doctor Who: Shroud of Sorrow.  It's one of three new releases including Doctor Who: Plague of the Cybermen by Justin Richards and Doctor Who: The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs.  The other two novels cover extra adventures of the two most popular Doctor Who villains.  The Shroud of this novel are important to the Who-niverse but may not be as widely recognized by casual fans.

In general, the books are written as "lost" episodes of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman).  The writers are writing with knowledge of the plot points from this current season but the stories exist on their own.  The plots will compliment the shows but unlike some other Doctor Who books I've read in the past, they don't take place in specific relation to the episodes.  I delved into Shroud of Sorrow only having watched the first episode of the Doctor and Clara.

That first paragraph set a certain tone and expectation for the book. Calling his flashlight a "torch" tells us that, even though it is set in Dallas, Texas, it will have a British tone and point of view.  That's consistent with the TV episodes.  In fact, the devotion to following the ebb and flow of a typical episode does a disservice to the book medium.  The book starts with the typical "tease," flows into meeting the TARDIS and the Doctor in the first chapter, and then back and forth between the episodic characters and the Doctor until everyone meets and then through to the conclusion.  The chapters are consistently about 15 pages long and feel like they end at a commercial break.

The story is set in the days directly following the assassination of JFK in November of 1963.  The nationwide sorrow brings the alien Shroud to feast on the sadness.  People in Dallas are starting to see long dead family and friends.  And now the faces are starting to push their way into our reality.  It's difficult to go any further into the plot of this 253-page book without revealing some major plot developments.

The relationship between the Doctor and Clara is pretty well established by the time this book takes place.  But they hint at still being early in their companionship.  The-back-and forth patter is pretty typical for Doctor and companion and very light.  The whole story is light.  The book reads like a script to a double-length episode.  The plot is interesting but the JFK assassination is merely a background event to the plot.  The main characters are bit players in the aftermath of the murders but they are affected by their visions more than the horror of the assassination.

The result is an interesting sidelight to this current season of Doctor Who.  The characters don't develop through the story, they only reflect the current status on the show.  Taking characters from a television show to a different medium should be a permission to explore facets of the characters that can't come across as easily in the original medium.  The previous books I've read from the Doctor Who series from 20 years ago didn't merely retell an episode, but used the book to delve deeper into explanations of the history and science of the events.  This book fail miserably at that one specific area.  There are a few key scientific explanations (I realize it is a Doctor Who story before you tell me not to look too closely) that needed more than just a glossing over.

The Broadway line of books is a great addition to the Who Universe for folks that just can't get enough of the series.  But you aren't going to get more depth than reading a script of an upcoming episode.  With a new companion like Clara, there's so much potential to investigate their relationship even further.  She's a mysterious character with so many questions, this book barely even addresses the known issues. Ultimately, I'd love to see this book on TV but that isn't much of a selling point for a book.  Easy to read, easy to follow, but little to inspire.

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