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Decalog 2: Lost Property

Book review by Paul Scoones

Editors Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker have redeemed the faults of last year's Decalog. Most notably, the overarching story format has been dispensed with in favour of a loose theme concerning the various homes owned by the Doctor.

Only four writers - Vanessa Bishop, Paul Cornell, Andy Lane and Tim Robins were in the first Decalog. Of the rest, Daniel Blythe, David McIntee and Gareth Roberts are New Adventures veterans, and Pam Baddeley, Matthew Jones, Mike Tucker and Robert Perry (the latter two collaborating on the same story), are the 'new talent'.

The praise accorded to Vanessa Bishop in my review of Decalog is equally founded here. Her story, Timeshare, elegantly captures the mood and witticisms of the Sixth Doctor at the height of his verbal sparring with Peri.

Andy Lane's Where the Heart is, a Third Doctor and UNIT story, is another of the highlights of the collection, both for its straight-forward and uncluttered plot (a characteristic which several other writers in this collection would do well to emulate), and its great treatment of the Pertwee era regulars.

Crimson Dawn by Tim Robins is a Fourth Doctor, Leela and K9 story set on a futuristic Mars somewhat reminiscent of Total Recall. Robins has a little too much happening to effectively provide enough description to build a mental picture of the various interesting locations and tell a good story at the same time, so at various points one of these suffers.

Paul Cornell's decision to write his contribution as an elaborate piece of humour was in my opinion misjudged. The Trials of Tara is a four act Shakespearean-style play in which the Seventh Doctor and Bernice visit Tara and the Time Lord once again helps out to defeat Count Grendel, who is this time aided by the Kandyman. I like most of Cornell's writing but this is little more than a grossly over-extended bawdy joke which falls flat.

Gareth Roberts's Vortex of Fear is frankly disappointing given the high calibre of his novel writing. His humdrum tale featuring Jamie, Zoe and Troughton's Doctor caught in a temporal paradox is unmemorable except for his worthy attempts at fleshing out Zoe's usually somewhat insubstantial character.

The seldom-utilised K9 and Company scenario is brought out and dusted off for David McIntee's story Housewarming, but the story only served to illustrate to me that Doctor Who in 'Sarah Jane investigates' mode is rather dull. Despite the addition of Mike Yates to the Sarah and K9 team, the plot doesn't really go anywhere, or do anything, with the initially promising premise of a haunted house. McIntee, notorious for inserting crossreferences to other science fiction shows, here gets away with a rather blatant linking of Doctor Who and The X Files.

The Fifth Doctor's outing is Lonely Days by Daniel Blythe, The most bland of the Eighties companions, Nyssa, deserved better and stories such as this one which feature her as the sole companion are disappointing when they fail to invest her with any more personality than she had on screen. This aside, Blythe's entry is an interesting story which includes just the right amount of plot and complexity.

The best of the new writers' stories is indisputably Matthew Jones's The Nine Day Queen, almost but not quite a pure historical, which captures the style of the Hartnell era perfectly. This is one of the very best in the collection. I'm intrigued by the popularity of Ian and Barbara as sole companions. So far Virgin has published two short stories and one novel all set between The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Rescue!

Pam Baddeley's People of the Trees is unmemorable, a rather average adventure story with little innovation. Given the rich variety of the Fourth Doctor's companions, it seems short-sighted of the editors to include two stories featuring the same companion in this collection.

Question Mark Pyjamas by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker is a rather wacky Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice story which works much better than the other notable attempt at humour in this book. Oddly enough, despite its silly absurdity, this feels exactly as if it has been lifted from the pages of a New Adventures novel.

Overall, most of these stories are worth reading, and three are real gems. If proof be needed that there is a place for short stories in Virgin's (already heavily overloaded) Doctor Who schedule, then Decalog 2 is it.

This item appeared in TSV 45 (September 1995).