Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel'

The Book: Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel

The Author: Jonathan Morris

How I Found It: I was really curious to see how a book featuring the Weeping Angels would go, as they're such visual monsters that I wasn't sure they'd come across on a page. A fellow Whovian was kind enough to loan it to me; many thanks!

For those who don't know (although I can't imagine this review is going to mean much to you if you don't know Doctor Who!), the Weeping Angels are one of the more well-known creations of the newest incarnation of Doctor Who. They can only move when you're not looking at them, but they move fast, and if they touch you, you get sent very far back in the past. Basically, don't blink. More information can be found here.

The Review: In 2003, Rebecca Whitaker, married to her husband Mark for only two years, dies in a car accident. In 2011, her husband Mark is still grieving, still stuck, and... being pursued by the image of an angel statue in whichever TVs he passes. Mark is starting to get freaked out, but that's nothing compared to how freaked out he'll be when a man in a tweed suit and a bowtie shows up with his two companions and a device that helps him detect when time's gone "wibbly."

Mark, as it turns out, can't stick around long--because soon enough he's been touched by a Weeping Angel, and off he goes into the past (1994, to be precise), never to return to his present. But wait--only 1994? That isn't right. The Weeping Angels are supposed to send you to a point much further back in time, so they can feed off of hundreds of years worth of potential energy, and why would they send you back on your own timeline... oh. This means the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are fighting a new brand of Weeping Angel, smarter and more dangerous than before.

As the Doctor, Amy, and Rory scramble to stop Mark from interfering in his own timeline and thus causing the collapse of the universe, Mark has an agenda of his own. He's in 1994 and still carrying a letter he received before he got zapped. It's in his own handwriting, and it's an entire list of instructions for the next seven years, 1994 to 2001. And the last line of the letter? You can save her. Mark would do anything to save Rebecca's life... and he's going to try.

This book really surprised me, I have to say. I'd heard it was good, but I truly wasn't expecting it to be this good. Of all the Who novels I've read this far, I think this one is the best, hands down--and that's saying something, considering the ones I've read to this point have been really excellent. But Morris got it all down: characterization, plot, side characters, emotional impact, everything.

I really wish this could have been a two or even three-parter for the show proper: it's brilliantly done, and Morris has made the Weeping Angels and their dastardly new plan scarier than what we saw on TV. When I realized what the deal was with sending someone back to a time they'd actually lived in, I had a mini-freakout and then just had to keep turning the pages. It's brilliant. Many people didn't like the "improvements" made to the Angels in the two-parter, feeling that they eliminated the scare factor, and while I had to agree there, this development truly was scary. The Weeping Angels are the ultimate chessmasters. They don't really have to pursue Mark. They just have to send him back to 1994 and wait for him to run into himself and screw up. They just have to wait for him to blink.

I had an inkling that I would like this book early on, the minute the Doctor showed up. Eleven's really becoming my favorite Doctor, and I really hoped Morris would get his characterization right. And the kicker with Doctor Who is that you don't only have to get the Doctor right: you have to get how he works with the companions right alongside that. I needn't have feared. I knew right off that I had a winner when I reached this exchange:
The Doctor dusted down his jacket and trousers. ‘Or maybe this is a new type of Weeping Angel.’

‘You mean they come in different varieties now? Oh,
great!’ [Amy said.]

‘It must’ve been drawn to its prey… like a moth to a flame.’ The Doctor’s eyes widened in delight. ‘Hang on! That analogy made sense! My analogies
never make sense! I must write it down. Rory, write it down for me!’

‘I’m not your secretary, Doctor,’ said Rory patiently.

‘No? Only there
is a vacancy, yours if you want it.’ (28-9)
I had to giggle here: there it was. The Doctor being excited, in the midst of all the danger, that one of his analogies finally made sense (he would). Amy not losing sight of the danger and really just being annoyed that even after facing the Weeping Angels and nearly losing her life to them, they've not seen it all. Rory being endlessly patient and giving the Doctor a reminder that no, he's not his secretary (again, the Doctor would assume Rory's his secretary). I read with eagerness from there on, and the book didn't disappoint. Morris clearly knows his Who even past the characterizations: there's fun nods to each of the Weeping Angels episodes (Series 3's "Blink" and Series 5's "The Time of Angels" / "Flesh and Stone") and even a sly reference to one of the Tenth Doctor's companions (I won't spoil who, but it was wonderful to see).

The most affecting thing here, I felt, was how well Morris developed Mark and Rebecca's story. Theirs is a not-quite-linear love story, since really, for us, it starts after Rebecca is dead. We get the story through a series of flashbacks to both the good and the bad, which really conveys a sense of Mark having thought these memories over endlessly since Rebecca's death. Morris developed a completely convincing and absorbing love story in very little space, and for that, I applaud him. I was crying at the end because I could feel Mark's devotion--I could feel how badly he wanted to save Rebecca, and I was rooting for him. I like the side characters in Doctor Who, but I don't usually find myself feeling strongly for them save for a few rare exceptions. So it stunned me that I felt so deeply for this one.

The pacing was fast, which pleased me: some of the other Who books I've read have been a teensy bit slow to start and really get into the meat of things, but here we knew right off that the Weeping Angels were after Mark, that these Weeping Angels were a new and more dangerous kind, and that Mark had a goal he wanted to achieve. I read this one in two protracted sittings and never wanted to put it down. It hurtles right along to a surprising and emotional ending, and I'd gladly take the ride again sometime.

For anyone who finds themselves missing the most recent Team TARDIS, this book is a winner. You've got the Doctor at his brilliant but occasionally manipulative best, you've got Amy following right alongside and ready for action, and you've got Rory getting to be gloriously competent and having actual things to do (joy of all joys!). New and improved monsters, great pacing, a well-told love story, and an emotional ending all add up to a wonderful book. Recommended to Whovians who want to see a different take on certain tropes (a paradoxical love story, the scare factor of the Weeping Angels) that they might have felt weren't done right in the recent two series, and really, anyone who just wants to spend more time with the Doctor.


  1.!!!!! If its that good then I might need to check it out

  2. Thank you for this review! Now I am so excited to get this book and read it!