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Doctor Who: The Stone Rose

Doctor Who: The Stone Rose - Jacqueline Rayner “Be careful, what you wish for…”

“… you may get it.” Being a big fan of the Doctor Who relaunch in general and the 10th Doctor in particular and having studied Classical History my expectations for this book where really high. On the one hand I wished for characters I would recognise from the TV series, characters that would feel right, characters that I can hear in my mind while reading. On the other hand I wanted a depiction of the ancient Roman society that would be realistic. With wishes and expectations like these, you are almost certainly in for a big disappointment in one way or the other – or even worse: both. But this book was a welcome surprise.

First of all, it was a good and genuine Doctor Who mystery. Mickey shows Rose and the Doctor a near 2000 year old statue of Rose in the costume of the Roman goddess Fortuna in the British Museum, but since Rose posed for any sculptor back in Roman times, nor having been there at all to begin with, there must be something else to it. And being who they are the two of them “whoosh” of to Hadrian’s times to investigate. They stumble upon a Roman nobleman in search for his missing son and a slave girl that seemingly can foretell the future and knows details about Hadrian’s Wall that isn’t even planned yet. And as the Doctor and Rose dig deeper, they find they’re not the only time travellers around and wishes can be a very nasty and tricky business. Especially when they are to be fulfilled to the letter.

There is quite a bit of Aladdin and his Lamp in this story, but with the certain twist every good Doctor Who mystery needs. What I really liked about this one though was the solution. I’ve read some Doctor Who novels by now and none of the uses the TARDIS and the fact that the Doctor can travel through time like this one. In every other novel I’ve read before and after (“The Clockwise Man”, “The Monsters inside”, “Winner Takes All”, “The Feast of the Drowned”, “The Resurrection Casket”), the Doctor was either separated from the TARDIS or seemingly forget all about it. It never was more than the means of getting the Doctor and Rose to where and when the story was set. While I can understand this approach, since it is rather difficult to tell a good and logic story with a hero who can just jump anywhere in Time and Space at a whim, I wished more than once for a story that would make good and clever use of this fact. Well, another wish granted by this novel. The Doctor uses his ability to jump back and forth trough time rather freely even if it takes him some time to remember, that he can do so and use it to his advantage. I liked this solution, even though I have to admit thinking more closely about the fact, that the phial Rose wishes the GENIE to fill again with the anti-petrification potion is the same phial she’ll give the Doctor a few day back in the past to it’ll end up in her future self’s hands again to be refilled by the GENIE to give it to the Doctor back in the past is kind of mindboggling. But well…. since the even the Doctor admits his approach to the problems at hand creating more than one paradox, who am I to try and sort that out.

Writing/Storytelling: The story is told from multiple points of view. While the Doctor and Rose are dominating, there are other “voices” thrown in here and there: Mickey, Vanessa, Gracilis, Ursus, and some more. They all have their own distinguishable voices and the original characters from the TV series are certainly recognisable. From the very first line I could practically hear them in my mind. Their views on the events happening always felt believable and genuine.
The pace of the story was good. Steady, but not rushing, allowing the events time to unfold where it was necessary, speeding things up and summarizing, when it was not. With some books I’ve read lately I often got the feeling, the story had the wrong pace, giving too much time, where it was only diversion, speeding up, where more time and information would have done some good. Not with this one. The pace always seemed adequate, anything that was told was driven by the story but I never got the feeling this or that event was totally illogical or out-of-character and just happened for the sake of the story.

World/Worldbuilding: Worldbuilding in media tie-ins is a tricky thing. On the one hand, the author has to stick to the cannon, on the other hand, with writing the book alone s/he adds something non-cannon (even though approved by the creators, otherwise it would have never been published). For this one, it was tricky doubly so. For not only had the author the Doctor Who Universe to consider, but also create an authentic, believable ancient Roman world. I would say, she did really well on both occasions. The depiction of the Doctors World was good and the representation of the ancient Roman world believable and authentic. Down to the Doctor noticing that something’s of with Vanessa’s story since she knows details about things no roman slave girl could know because they would only happen a few years in the future.

Hero/Heroine: What’s said about the world, applies even more for the main characters, in this case the Doctor and Rose. Where the recognisable? Do they speak and act like they would do in the series? In short: are the genuine?
Well, to me they were. As I said before, on many occasions I could practically hear them talking in my head while reading the book. They were depicted very much according to the series and I always though, the author knew the characters quite well – which sadly is not always common with media tie-in authors. I hand no difficulty imagining the Doctor or Rose do the things that were told they do, hearing them say the things that were told they said, even their exact pronunciation and how their moods and opinions would show in their voices.

Supporting Characters: There were a lot of supporting characters in this one, and only two of them – in really minor roles – known from the TV series. Jackie and Mickey just appeared at the very beginning and end of the story. Mickey being the one to tip the Doctor and Rose of to the statue that was the beginning of this particular adventures. But that’s as far as their role goes. Their “screen time” is too small, to judge if they’re in-character or not, but the author didn’t manage to make them totally out-of-character – a feat not few media tie-in authors have managed with supporting characters in even less than a page – so I think they are okay.
The more important supporting characters were those, the Doctor and Rose met back in Roman times, first of all Gracilis and Vanessa. Gracilis is a Roman Senator in search for his teenage son who had disappeared into thin air a few days back and Vanessa is a slave girl that seemingly can foretell the future but the Doctor soon recognises that there has to be something more to her than meets the eye. While Gracilis seemed good devised to me, his motives clear and believable, and his actions adding nicely to the plot, I had some difficulties with Vanessa. She was so whiny and so … well just the helpless little damsel in distress, it annoyed me at times. I mean, granted, she had been thrown out of her time almost 2500 years back to AD 120 into Roman slavery but when she finally realized, that the Doctor and Rose where time travellers too and they might have the means to bring her back home, this would have been the right time, to stop whining and more importantly stop holding viable information from them but actually help them. She did almost nothing of that sort and on top of that wishes to be back in Ancient Rome the moment the Doctor and Rose drop her of in her own time. And all because her father is busy inventing things and not having much time for her. She appeared as a spoiled brat more than once.

Antagonist: There is no real antagonist in this one – at least not in the “evil mastermind with world domination plans” sense of the word. Not that Ursus’s plans and actions where particularly nice nor did he really care for the people falling victim to his dreams of being the most famous sculptor of the roman world, but he is not the main antagonist here. He’s more like a symptom of the things gone wrong and leading to up to the things that brought the Doctor and Rose back in time in the first place (Even though – as we learn later on – technically speaking there never was a reason so the Doctor had to create it afterwards – in yet another time – and bring it back to make them go back in the first place. As I said, slightly paradox the whole story and its solution). To say anything more about the “real” thing behind everything would be totally spoiling the story, but it has to do with an interesting way to spell out the acronym GENIE.

Editing: I didn’t find any grave mistakes or other editing matters. There might have been a few typos, but nothing that would disrupt the reading experience so I’d say the editing was good.

Conclusion: This was my first Doctor Who novel featuring the 10th Doctor – having only read “The Clockwise Man” with the 9th Doctor beforehand – and I was quite sceptical when I started. Doctor Who plus Ancient Rome – that better had to be really good devised and I certainly expected to be disappointed. But the novel surprised me. It was cleverly devised, making good use of the fact that the TARDIS not only travels backwards and forwards in space, but in time as well, and crafting a genuine Doctor Who mystery in an authentic depicted Ancient Roman world. So, it was a good and worthwhile read, therefor I say 4 Stars.