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Decalog

Edited by Mark Stammers & Stephen James Walker

Book review by Paul Scoones

I hoped this anthology of short stories would be really good, not just because three of the ten contributors are TSV readers but because I suspect the future of such collections within the Doctor Who range depends on Decalog's reception. Unfortunately the book's poor or just plain average stories outnumber the good examples of short fiction.

The blurb promotes the book as featuring seven Doctors, but in truth the collection belongs to the first five incarnations, particularly the Third and Fifth Doctors. The Seventh Doctor only appears in the wraparound tale and the Sixth Doctor suffers the ignominy of cropping up in little more than a cameo role in a First Doctor story. Perhaps this is a reflection of the attitude that authors currently seem to have regarding the Sixth Doctor's role in the Missing Adventures?

Nine of the stories are linked via the tenth, Playback by Stephen James Walker, which unfortunately is a strong contender for worst story of the collection. The premise is dull and tedious, initially serving only to set up a situation where by one object after another 'triggers' the telling of each story. Even a clever twist near the end is not enough to save this one from the doldrums.

The stories I enjoyed most - enough to read them twice in fact - were Paul Cornell's Lackaday Express, Vanessa Bishop's The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back and Jim Mortimore's The Book of Shadows, each of which would have stylistically sat well with the format of a New/Missing Adventures novel. I trust it will not be too long before Bishop tackles a full-length adventure. Mortimore's story would appear to be a condensed version of the Missing Adventure referred to in TSV 37's Beyond the Book and whilst the premise is very appealing it is difficult to see how he could have sustained the plot to novel length. Cornell's story is equally good and is one of a very few stories in the collection that seems neither too hurried nor padded.

Tim Robins' Prisoners of the Sun was interesting but summoned up a 'been there, done that' feeling due to its alternative universe UNIT subject. Marc Platt's The Duke of Dominoes is well written but I found the subject (the Master in 1930s gangster-ridden Chicago), unappealing.

It would be a mistake to write off Decalog. The majority of the stories are entertaining enough for their length. I would like to see Virgin publish more story anthologies but I feel the publishers need to insist on the high standard that we have come to expect from the novels.

This item appeared in TSV 38 (March 1994).