On balance, 2016 was a pretty good year for fans of the Tenth Doctor, Donna and writer Jenny T Colgan. Not only did she pen the superb ‘Time Reaver’ for Big Finish, Colgan released her long-awaited Tenth Doctor novel. With ‘In the Blood’ hitting the shelves in paperback today, we thought it was time to look back at this adventure.
After a spate of deaths among controversial online personalities, the TARDIS returns to Earth to investigate. Donna is shocked to find that even her friends and family have taken to arguing with strangers on the Internet. The pair must keep their emotions under control tracking the source of this anger across the globe. But while an old enemy lies in wait, they’re not the only ones on the hunt.
Needless to say, this is a story thoroughly rooted in the contemporary issue of online trolls. Known for her precisely crafted descriptions, Colgan captures the gnawing, impotent feeling of being slighted online with haunting accuracy. As someone who has weathered her fair share of Twitter storms, it’s clear that Colgan is drawing on personal experience. Digital obsession is taken to its logical extreme with people too distracted squabbling online to notice the world around them. That said, while Colgan paints a vivid image, the idea itself is a little clichéd by this point.
Indeed, some of the minor characters – especially the trolls who fall victim to the plot – come off as caricatures. The overweight man-child in his mum’s basement. The blustering, egotistical businessperson. The high-minded hipsters. There’s no attempt to empathise with them or examine their motivations beyond the superficial. Though a missed opportunity it would also have bogged down this breakneck story, so maybe it’s better for it.
Unsurprisingly for someone who has written scripts for these characters, Colgan perfectly captures the Doctor and Donna in the dialogue. Though the occasional line ends up a little too wordy, the patter between the two friends is absolutely on point. Using the short-tempered Donna in this story was an inspired choice in a story about anger. We see some rare sides to the character as she has to keep herself in check throughout the story. Particularly later on, when she’s separated from the Doctor and under intense pressure, she’s really put to the test.
Given the globetrotting story, having them hop into the TARDIS would’ve been an easy (boring) way to resolve the logistics. Instead, Colgan seizes the opportunity to take the Doctor and Donna on tour. This results in action-packed sequences that would have been two flights, a sleeper train and jungle hike outside the BBC budget. Not only does it take full advantage of the medium, it heightens the sense of worldwide peril permeating the story. The novel is beautifully paced with a subplot involving Wilf breaking up the main story with the Doctor and Donna. It adds emotional stakes to the story and more Bernard Cribbins (even in book form) is always good!
Spinning Off Spin-Offs
The final act of the story relies heavily on elements introduced in Colgan’s Tenth Doctor Big Finish adventure ‘Time Reaver’. It’s always fun to see Doctor Who spin-off media making references to one another separately from the TV series. For example, Bernice Summerfield is a staple Whoniverse character built exclusively around spin-offs. However, it has to be done very carefully or it risks muddling the plot.
This novel could be taken as a loose sequel to the audio, ignoring the fact it came out a few days before. It doesn’t interfere with the action of this story, but frequent references to the audio play are made, including the motivations of one character. The events of the Big Finish adventure are summarised in a page-long exposition dump, but it’s a lot of context to take on at once. Unless you’ve heard ‘Time Reaver’, the references may leave you a little cold.
Calm in the Blood
Jenny Colgan’s novels outside Doctor Who are often described as feel-good and heartwarming. In the closing moments of ‘In the Blood’, her talent for description and inspiring a mood shines through. It was a masterstroke to end the novel this way. After a story about anger destroying people, giving the reader this calm and serene ending should have been impossible. In the wrong hands, it could have resulted in tonal whiplash, but Colgan handles it expertly.
‘In the Blood’ is a strong return for the Tenth Doctor and his era in novel form. It puts a swashbuckling spin on an old idea and turns out a gripping adventure tale. What it loses through heavy self-referencing and under-examined ideas, it more than makes up for in scale. This feels like a Tenth Doctor episode with the budget of a blockbuster. Colgan’s pulled out all the stops in composing the action and descriptive scenes. The emphasis on plot pays off with one of the most varied and ambitious novels in Doctor Who’s recent history.
‘Doctor Who: In the Blood’ is available from all good booksellers in hardback, eBook and paperback formats in the UK and US.