You guys, are you watching the Thirteenth Doctor? So good.
I knew I was going to like it because, you know, friends going on space adventures, but honestly whenever I saw some fanboy moaning about too many ladies having too much screentime, or why science fiction “suddenly” turned political, I knew it was going to be extra good.
A few years ago, I used to fall asleep watching old Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, and drift off thinking about the space friends. If you’re ever in a toxic workplace, the fantasy of common goals, competent coworkers, time for hobbies and friends is pretty good. Even when everything’s fine, I just really like space, adventures and optimism.
Anyway, I like the newest Doctor Who TV show so much that Harold got me some of the Thirteenth Doctor comics, BUT it’s the stupid serial format with cliffhangers and weeks between them, which is not at all how I like to read comics. I think I’m going to wait for the trade, instead, so I can bingeread my comics like an adult.
I bought one of the spinoff novels, Molten Heart. It reads like a longer ep, with more internal monologue, especially from Yaz. There’s more space for character growth, too. Or, in certain cases, some spot-on character stagnancy, like when Ryan just switches to past tense for Ash’s missing dad, because he’s Ryan and he has gigantic father issues. The characters are so good that I hear their dialogue in the actors’ voices — also can we talk about how this season’s companions are actually very good at taking direction and not needing rescue every 10 minutes? Yes.
Molten Heart has the same optimism, risk, friendships and danger that I love in the TV season (and that sucked me into the Ninth Doctor, too). I’m really enjoying the complete lack of Daleks, Cybermen or the Master this season. Classic Who is fine, but I feel like all of those classic enemies has been taken just about as far as those storylines can go. I don’t want to find just one more final Dalek, again. Molten Heart has a new enemy, which can be read as an allegory for climate change denial, but also works as another beautiful, dangerous planet, in need of the Doctor and friends.
In Doctor Who: The Secret in Vault 13, by David Solomons, the Doctor and her friends are traveling through space and time when Graham wants to stop by Earth to water his houseplants. His thirsty, suddenly talkative begonia starts the mystery, leading the friends to an alien species of gardeners, and a prophecy about the Thirteenth Doctor protecting the Genesis Seed from baddies who want to destroy the universe. I always prefer new characters and new villains, over another big reveal that another really-really-last-this-time Dalek has been found. (Also, I’d absolutely want to take my houseplants through space with me.)
There are quick, fun references to previous episodes and doctors in The Secret in Vault 13, but none of the plotpoints rely on recognizing a previous character or event, so it’s suitable for new fans. For example, Ryan pulls out a famous stripey scarf for a trip to a cold world, but finds it way too long, and puts on some other clothes from the TARDIS’ storage. Readers can recognize the scarf or not, without detracting from this story.
More personally, I loved reading about the world of a twisted boarding school, made from students and crashed on a hostile planet. There’s a creepy shell of school still sort-of functioning, with robot staff going through the motions of British boarding school without any regard for student safety or just how messed up the entire situation is. As I receive endless work emails about making sure that students are adequately penalized for signing in late to online classes IN A PANDEMIC or about maintaining professional dress IN A PANDEMIC, the frankenfaculty doesn’t seem too ridiculous or even unusual.
This is definitely a middle-grades novel, so some of the jokes skew a bit young, but space friends and alien flowers saving the galaxy is a good adventure for all ages!
Fans of this one will enjoy other Thirteenth Doctor spinoff novels like Doctor Who: Combat Magicks, too.
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