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A Bit Different

By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 7 April 2020
Rating:   7

The brief for the Telos novellas was that they be different from the BBC range of Doctor Who novels, exploring different narrative styles and being generally more "adult" than the main range. "Shell Shock" certainly fills the brief. The story ranges back and forth through time, though the time is a mere few days, and uses multiple points of view in third-person limited fashion. Each perspective is given its own narrative voice so that a reader can distinguish between perspectives. The novel is "adult" both in its content about the psychological trauma of war, and in its language, which has many more **** expletives than standard Doctor Who novels. The story itself has Doctor 6 and Peri landing on a derelict ship on a primarily ocean world. While Peri is exploring in scuba gear, the ship goes under, taking the TARDIS with it. The Doctor ends up washed ashore on an island, while Peri swims around on her own before "dying" and being eaten by something which itself is being eaten by sea creatures, while her consciousness gets absorbed by the something that is eating her. The island on which The Doctor lands is inhabited by a bunch of cyborg crabs created during a war that has since been abandoned, and a psychologically damaged veteran of that war who abandoned the war before it abandoned the planet. Thus, the title "Shell Shock" has the double meaning of Ranger's (the human's) PTSD and the shells of the crabs. These crabs are now starting to be killed and eaten by a giant, crazed, cyborg crab called Meathook, and there is little that The Doctor can do to stop it.

Running on its own internal logic, the novel works reasonably well. There is quite a bit of "what the hell is going on here" for the reader, especially with Peri's narrative, but Forward makes most of the necessary revelations eventually. A couple of things did not fully work for me. One is the strange helplessness of The Doctor in relation to the crabs. He is unable to help them in even the most meager defense against Meathook, and it is not clear why. There are some gaps in the backstory that never get fully worked out, such as just what Ranger's sister (another soldier in the war) had done to warrant her punishment, which is the precipitating event for Ranger's defection from the war. The way The Doctor puts Peri back together, literally, is another aspect not satisfactorily worked out. It is written in such a way that it is as if Forward believes that the only memories that "make" a person are the painful and shameful ones, which cannot possibly be right.

Overall, "Shell Shock" is a surprisingly good read, but with a few execution flaws.

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