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Grave Matter

By Justin Richards

Book review by Brad Schmidt

It seems amusing that just as I begin to find Justin Richards' work increasingly “pulp fiction”, this book — possibly the most pulpy yet — enthralls me, harkening back to the days of such classics as Theatre of War and The Sands of Time. It's the best novel of 2000 thus far, and that's even more promising since it's by the series' new editor.

If a novel featuring an earlier Doctor is supposed to embody particularly noted qualities of that Doctor's era, then Grave Matter is a magnifying glass focussed on the horror of Season Twenty-Two. Attacked by owls, foxes, sharks, zombies, with aliens, suicide unrestrained in description, and a graveyard on a fogbound island at night, Grave Matter is a potent trip down memory lane. It's one of the best Who horror stories, and like a lot of good horror, the fact that it doesn't always make complete sense is rendered irrelevant by the suspense.

The story starts with a false scenario, which seems clever at the time but in retrospect, couldn't and wouldn't really have happened... surely? If the story is evocative of 1985, then the characters miss the mark, with a surprisingly mellow Sixth Doctor accompanied by a Peri who works so much better in print. They are undeniably the main characters, with few supporting characters given much prominence. There are many characters, but not too many, and none are especially memorable but for the lonely old Mrs Tattleshall, briefly seen, who the villagers ignore (and she's only so memorable because she's so realistic, invoking no end of guilt in the reader).

For a book reputedly written at the last minute to plug a publication gap, Grave Matter is a sterling example of how well the Sixth Doctor works in print. Would it be to wrong to hope for more pressure on Mr Richards? [5/5]

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).

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