Behind every great man, there’s a great woman – and nowhere is that more evident than in Doctor Who. Now, in celebration of International Women’s Day, four female companions (and four prolific female writers) are taking their turn in the spotlight. This is The Day She Saved The Doctor…
First impressions count for a lot, so let’s get the obvious out of the way. That front cover is gorgeous! The Day She Saved The Doctor is a beautiful looking hardback book that demands to take pride of place on your shelf. The four starring companions – Sarah Jane, Rose, Clara and Bill – are all up front and centre, and it truly feels like a work of art you can hold in your hand. Straining to find the Doctor on there though? He’s actually been relegated to the back cover this time round, and if that’s not indicative of what to expect from this short story collection, then we don’t know what is. This is a book by women, about women, for everyone. But, while it’s definitely an important step forward for Time Ladies everywhere, does it manage to deliver on quality as much as it does equality?
The premise for The Day She Saved The Doctor is simple. It’s a compilation of four stories, each written by a well-known female writer, about a well-known female companion, set on a day that they save the Doctor. The choice of characters comes as no real surprise – Rose, Clara and Bill are among the most popular new Who companions, and Sarah Jane… well, she’s Sarah Jane! They’re each paired up with a different Doctor – Bill with Twelve, Clara with Eleven, Sarah Jane with Four… and, intriguingly, Rose with Nine. There’s nothing wrong with this at all – in fact, it’s quite a welcome change! – but the Tenth Doctor is certainly notable by his absence. Still, it’s a reminder that, on this occasion, things don’t revolve around the Time Lord. The companions are the stars of the show, and for once, he’s there to facilitate their stories – not the other way around.
Something Old, Something New
What of those stories though? Things kick off with Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes by Jacqueline Rayner, set in the time of the Roman Empire. We won’t go spoiling anything here, but the plot centres around blindness and a female cult. If there’s one word to describe it though, it’s that it’s very ‘classic’ – partly in terms of the era, but also just how familiar the whole thing is. It’s a well-written tale, make no mistake about it. Just don’t go expecting this one to shock or amaze in any extraordinary way.
Things definitely pick up though in the second story, Rose and the Snow Window by Jenny T. Colgan. Jenny’s written a lot of Doctor Who over the years, and her pedigree certainly shines through here. This is a charming and inventive adventure that weaves together Russian aristocrats, romance, and time anomalies into a captivating fairy-tale. Jenny captures the tone and spirit of the Eccleston/Piper era perfectly, making this one of the strongest and most exciting entries to read through.
Next comes Clara and the Maze of Cui Palta, perhaps the most hyped-up story of the lot. It’s penned by Susan Calman (of Stricly Come Dancing fame) and it’s fair to say that it lives up to expectations. A word of warning though: if you haven’t watched any Eleven/Clara stories recently, their dynamic may initially catch you off guard. After a couple of years of her travelling with the Twelfth Doctor, we’re less accustomed with this jokier, flirtier Clara/Doctor relationship. However, Susan absolutely nails it and her comedy sensibilities bring the characters to life with an excitable fizz. This is a fun, light-hearted romp set in the middle of a mind-bending maze, and it’s every bit as enjoyable as it sounds.
Last but not least is Bill and the Three Jackets by Dorothy Koomson. If you loved Bill Potts, then simply put, you’re going to love this. Bill’s got herself another date and she wants to look her best for the occasion. She goes to try on three jackets, but finds herself getting more than she first bargained for. Featuring fashion-conscious companions and sinister selfies, this is a very 21st Century story, and one that would fit right into the arc of Series 10. There’s even a couple of surprises for those who followed that season closely, including a character first mentioned in the opening of The Pilot…
If there’s one (and really, only one) criticism that can be aimed at The Day She Saved The Doctor, it’s that it could have dared to do even more. Four is a relatively small number of stories and, admittedly, it does begin to feel like slim pickings. When there are other Doctor Who collections out there offering far more content, it’s a shame to see a significant one like this come up short. It also puts a lot more unnecessary pressure on the stories that actually are here. They’re all great in their own right, but when considered as 25% of an entire book, they don’t always quite hit the mark.
In conclusion, while this may not be the most memorable short story collection there’s ever been, it’s still perhaps one of the most important. Doctor Who boasts a mighty pantheon of strong female characters, and they more than deserve their shining moment in the sun. With more companions, more writers, and more stories, this could turn into a really fantastic series – and we hope to see more female-led books like this sooner rather than later. For now though, The Day She Saved The Doctor remains an enticing (if somewhat thinly spread) first step towards the future…
The Day She Saved The Doctor is available now.