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Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole
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Stephen Cole's Ten Little Aliens is disappointing, not so much because of what it is but because of what it is not. That's a little bit unfair, of course, but you have to understand what the novel has been set up as - admittedly, more than 10 years after its original publication. Ten Little Aliens was selected as the entry for William Hartnell's Doctor in BBC Books' set of 50th anniversary reprints, with new covers, new introductions by the authors, and a sort of implication that these are "the best of the best" of Doctor Who in novel form. That last part is an assumption, but it's easy to make, and for many readers, Ten Little Aliens will be the first they read (seeing as Hartnell is the first Doctor of eleven).

I was confused by the choice when it was announced. Ten Little Aliens as published in 2002, a little after I gave up my teenage obsession with Doctor Who fiction. I really didn't have an opinion one way or another. Throughout the '90s, however, there were a number of highly acclaimed novels starring William Hartnell's Doctor, both for the Virgin "Missing Adventures" line and later for the BBC. Sticking with the BBC's own line (since all 11 of these reprints are of earlier BBC publications), the obvious choice would have been Steve Lyons' The Witch Hunters, an incredibly popular book featuring the original TARDIS crew in the historical context of Salem, Massachusetts. Lyons' follow-up, Salvation, would have also been a suitable choice, as would Simon Guerrier's The Time Travellers, both of them set in the 1960s. There are other choices, too, but a title emphasizing either a purely historical adventure (which is almost entirely exclusive to Hartnell's era) or the "swinging 60s" (it's meant to be a 50th anniversary adventure, after all) would have made sense. Right?

Choosing Ten Little Aliens - which features the first Doctor alongside Ben and Polly, who are barely seen together at the tail end of his era - just feels like a slightly odd move. So, too, is the decision to go with a heavy sci-fi/action novel, just because there have been so many throughout the range (with more to come just in this set of reprints). To anyone with a passing familiarity with original Doctor Who fiction, a novel that pays homage to either Starship Troopers or Aliens is not exactly an original contemplation. And then there's the much-cited Agatha Christie tribute. It's in the title, it's in the chapter headings...and that's pretty much it. Far from influencing the novel's direction, it feels mostly like a sort of odd publicity gimmick. Taking out the Christie references would not in any way change the fabric of this story.

So with all of that...stuff...out of the way, what's left? Honestly, it's not a bad book. It's just not terribly special. It's the least likely Doctor (frail, end-of-his-life first Doctor) in the midst of a bunch of space marines, and I'll give Cole this: his Doctor, either in dialogue or action, never feels less than authentic. Ben and Polly both get some superior material, too, which is commendable because so many of their TV adventures are lost; they're easy to "forget," but Cole has captured them well. As for the other characters? They are primarily faceless, hardened marines, at least until about the halfway point of the novel, when a few of them have died and the others can be defined a little more clearly. The book, in general, is like that; if you can make it through the first half or so, the character confusion starts to clear up and it actually becomes entertaining. Grisly, but entertaining. And, of course, the longer it goes on, the more pivotal of a role the Doctor plays, which I always find enjoyable (especially when he is such a contrast to the rest of the cast).

I can't shake the feeling that this title might have been selected for reprinting because of one - or both - of two odd points. The first is that there are monsters which take the form of (wait for it) stone angels. No, they're not the famed Weeping Angels, but they are described similarly enough that I found myself wondering if a commissioning editor thought, "New fans will think that's what they are and be very pleased." It's a possibility, anyway. The other point is a definite gimmick, which was notable even in 2002: a large chunk toward the end of the book, roughly fifty pages' worth, is told as a Choose Your Own Adventure-style narrative, requiring you to flip back and forth to follow different viewpoints. I know several readers found it irritating - I thought it was rather inventive, but I agree with them that, like the Christie titles, it does seem massively inconsequential to the overall story. And that's where I got to with Ten Little Aliens, in general - it wasn't awful, and I didn't regret the read. It's just that I know of a good half dozen first Doctor titles that would have been a lot more special for a celebratory 50th anniversary line, and I'm still a little bemused that this one was chosen. ( )
  saroz | Dec 22, 2015 |
Set during the final period of the First Doctor's incarnation and he's travelling with Ben and Polly. The trio find themselves on an asteroid that was hiding a deadly secret. When the TARDIS materialises they found themselves in a contol room containing a gruesome tableau of ten aliens dying of various deadly wounds and just as the party is about to get away, they are blocked when a forcefield suddenly pops up round it.

The Doctor and Ben find themselves facing the nervous trainees of a Terran training mission as Polly disappears and things start getting weird as the aliens in the tableau also start disappearing. But how could they be getting around with such deadly wounds?

The BBC had these previous incarnations of the Doctor down fairly pat by this stage and this takes the story forward as this incarnation travels towards his end. There are also some nice touches as the Terran Empire is mentioned. ( )
  JohnFair | Feb 9, 2015 |

I'm a fan of Stephen Cole's more recent books, but this is experimental stuff which shows a talent still coming together. The story brings Ben, Polly and the First Doctor to an asteroid where a bunch of human soldiers are mounting a special operation against the alien Schirr; things go wrong it it becomes clear that they have collectively fallen into a trap laid by the aliens and their collaborators. The chapters (mostly) take their titles from Agatha Christie novels, which is a bit misleading - the real reference in the title is to James Cameron's Aliens, where there are clear resonances.

The core plot is competently done, but there are a number of things that don't work. First, Cole makes Ben a racist, and then this vanishes the moment Polly reproves him for it. This is too big an issue to be dealt with so casually. Second, there is a long section where the narrative is divided up between characters, choose-your-own-adventure style. I simply didn't have the energy to play that game and just skipped to the next section. Finally, it may have just been my low energy levels, but I found ten supporting character too many to keep track of.

Having said that, Cole does a decent characterisation of the fading First Doctor and a very good Polly. But I wouldn't recommend this to non-fans. ( )
  nwhyte | Mar 31, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0563538538, Paperback)

Far out in space, on the ragged edges of Earth's bloated empire, an elite unit of soldiers is on a training mission. But deep in the heart of the hollowed-out planetoid that forms their battleground, a chilling secret waits to be discovered: ten alien corpses, frozen in time at the moment of violent, bloody death. The bodies are those of the empire's most wanted terrorists, and their discovery could end a war of attrition devastating the galaxy. But is the same force that slaughtered them still lurking in the dark tunnels of the training ground? And what are its plans for the people of Earth? When the Doctor arrives on the planetoid with Ben and Polly, he soon scents a net tightening about them. And as the soldiers begin to disappear one by one, paranoia spreads; is the real enemy out there in the darkness, or somewhere among them?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:27 -0400)

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