Sunday, October 6, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage


The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage
by Derek Landy

Out Oct 23

The writing duties for the Tenth Doctor ebook, published as part of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary celebrations, fall to award-winning children’s author, Derek Landy. And Landy maintains the high standard of this series so far.

The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage
sees the TARDIS land on a planet that looks remarkably like Earth and the Tenth Doctor, played on television by David Tennant, and Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman, find themselves confronted by characters from her childhood books. But who would want to build a planet from fiction? And why? The Doctor and Martha must solve the mystery or before their own story ends.

If this all sounds a teensy bit Enid Blyton and jolly hockey sticks, it’s because Landy embraces the world of children’s fiction and then, as is proper for Doctor Who, gives it a sciency-wiency, ghosty-whosty-alieni-wieny twist. He also rather agreeably doffs his writer’s cap at the Land of Fiction pocket universe from the classic Whoeuvre. A very nice touch.

As they enter this strange new world, the Doctor and Martha first encounter The Troubleshooters – a poor man’s Famous Five – and a caretaker called Cotterill. And we know all about caretakers in children’s mystery stories, don’t we readers?

Realising that this world is created from Martha’s memories of the books she read as a child, the Doctor and Martha investigate mysterious lights in the woods and a secret tunnel, where they outwit a bunch of stereotypical smugglers before discovering, with some very mild peril, what happens at the edges of stories. The parts not covered in the book. The nothingness beyond the margins. And well done it is, too.

The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage then becomes a magnificently bonkers madhouse featuring characters from Martha’s childhood, including a feisty Rapunzel and a “very bitey” Dracula, while the Doctor and Martha fight off some famous foes and avoid some obvious traps (Stephen King fans will have a little squeal). There’s even a reference to a beloved childhood icon (here made sinister) and a gentle poke at an extraordinarily popular vampire fiction phenomena.

The story climaxes with a very real threat that the Doctor can’t completely overcome and it ends in a rather eerie and thought-provoking way; the door left open for “Cotterill” to make a comeback. Or has it?

The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage is not only a love story to the Tenth Doctor, it wears its heart on its sleeve for the show as a whole. The relationship with Martha – who was always a brilliant companion – is wonderfully depicted without growing too soppy about Martha’s unrequited love for her companion.  There’s even mention of a certain tin dog.

Derek Landy does an impressive job of capturing the complex and multi-faceted character of Tennant’s tenth Doctor here. When he was announced as the writer for this anniversary special, Landy said, “The Tenth Doctor, with his love of the spoken word, was practically tailor-made for me, and there is no part of this story that I did not write with the utmost joy,” and that is so clear to see in this story.

We see the dazzling, clever Doctor with the great hair and an often charming, at times slightly manic way with words. It’s done with such style I defy you not to smile while you read it.

But we’re also given a Doctor who’s so clever he veers on the cruel. There’s a glimpse of the "Time Lord victorious" that this incarnation will become in The Waters of Mars. And quite right, too.  It’s a completely appropriate tribute to Tennant’s justifiably well-loved version of the Doctor.

Oh, and there’s running. Lots of running.

BLOGTOR RATING 9/10
Thanks to Puffin Books

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