After some false starts dwelling too much in the past or on meta concerns, authors Kate Orman and Jon Blum deliver a fully-formed vision of the Eighth Doctor in “Vampire Science”, a novel with a refreshing sense of simply getting on with telling a good story with good characters, instead of navel-gazing about how to define said new characters, or a new book series, or whatever else.
Where previous books defined themselves by their differences to the television movie that established Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, Orman and Blum simply get on with writing a compelling story with him, his unique traits (as defined by them) spilling out along the way. They even graciously thank people involved with the television movie in the acknowledgements, where previous books contorted themselves in ways to try and diminish the movie. Good vibes all around.
A cheery Doctor, a meta love story between the authors of the novel, a gracious tip of the hat to the controversial television movie, everything here just exudes grace. Well, not literally “Grace”, as that character from the television movie proved unable to clear the rights to use, resulting in a new character filling the place she was originally meant to fill in the novel.
Grace isn’t the defining word I’d use to describe the novel though, though there’s plenty of it. I’d probably use “warm”. Orman and Blum’s Eighth Doctor is a cuddly, warm figure, who sees relationship advice as equally important to saving the world from dastardly vampires, who trades in ice cream instead of self-congratulatory speeches, who is more interested in hanging out with his pet butterflies and bats than defeating villains. The novel’s arguably saccharine, but at least that’s an actual adjective, an identity for the series and the new Doctor to have, which seems to me exactly what was needed at this point, after too many false starts of the character. The Eighth Doctor here is defined by what he does, what he is, not what he’s not, or who he isn’t. This isn’t “the Doctor after the Seventh Doctor”, this is “the Eighth Doctor”, and there is a hugely important distinction there.
Examining the novel in a more retroactive, retrospective way is fascinating…the Eighth Doctor’s characterisation seems to serendipitously line up with his future (in both an in-story and out-of-story sense) characterisation in other media. This is a spontaneous, chaotic, romantic Doctor lacking most of the subtle irony, detachment and world-weariness of his later audio and television depictions, which works wonderfully, given the enormously huge canvas extended media gives his character development to play out on. Whether that consistency in development is from writers amiably keeping up a dialogue with each other, productive conflict and competition across writers and mediums, or sheer luck, I don’t yet know, but I’m happy with the results in any case.
Some echoes of the revived series crop up too, the Eighth Doctor’s infectious enthusiasm for the hum-drum of daily life recalls the “I’ve never met anyone who isn’t important” sentiment of the newer Doctors, the Doctor accidentally abandoning a companion before picking them back up recalls some of Steven Moffat’s pet themes, the particular execution of one such case recalling a moment early in the first revived series (under Russell T. Davies’ writing actually). The extent of the wilderness era’s influence on the revived series will make itself known to me in due time, I’m sure, but for now these seem perhaps influences, perhaps coincidences.
“Vampire Science” is finally an effective, and perhaps more importantly a fun, start for the Eighth Doctor, and hopefully an indicator of this range’s general success. I give it three butterflies, and a pair of bats.