Doctor Who – The Drosten’s Curse – A L Kennedy

Drosten1Set in June 1978 at the Fetch Brothers Golf Spa Hotel, what should be a place of relaxation and recovery and gentle activity is marred by the strange events which begin in the sand trap which has a nasty habit of eating the guests, much to the consternation of Junior Day Receptionist Bryony Mailer, trying to keep the resort running without support from senior management or the owner, the reclusive, forgetful and seemingly ageless Julia Fetch.

Radically expanded from Kennedy’s short story The Death Pit published in the Time Trips short story collection (something which is disingenuously not acknowledged within the book or on the cover blurb), with all the unnecessary padding removed the novel would collapse back in on itself to that original state which would undoubtedly be an improvement, for The Drosten’s Curse is not so much in need of editing as culling.

Within fifty pages the creature in the sandpit, the twin dilemma and granny eight-legs have been revealed, so what’s left to tell? Predictably, every time the characters cross the golf course they are attacked, and as awkward as the memory loss is to the characters experiencing it, for the readers who do recall the previous chapters it is torture.

The hotel setting and farcical goings-on (stolen biscuits, the manager blaming Bryony when a guest faints, etc) only serve to underline how much more rewarding the umpteenth viewing of The Kipper and the Corpse is than the first reading of the subsequent three hundred pages of this embarrassing jumped up fan-fiction of the lowest order, a curse in and of itself.

Drosten3With Bryony spending a span of several chapters soaking in a bath, a planet named ZZ5#7^ and a character named David Agnew after the pseudonym used within the BBC when a script could not be credited to the production staff members who actually wrote it, for example producer Graham Williams script editor Douglas Adams and David Fisher on City of Death, it is Adams she is aiming for with all the flair of lobbing bricks at an archery target.

Kennedy wants her prose to be quirky, but like Terry Jones’ adaptation of Adams’ script of Starship Titanic it’s too obviously someone trying to recreate a distinctive style and failing miserably, and unfathomably echoing the plot of that wretched book there is an unrequited love between a swooning eyed buffoon and the woman he considers out of his league.

The handful of lead characters may be described in great detail but all feel fake, forced caricatures rather than people, and generally objectionable ones at that. Bryony is a painfully Mary Sue character, and as much as Ian Patterson, the infuriating, insufferable and tiresomely incompetent guest besotted with Bryony gushes over her, so she gushes over the Doctor, with his “striking and trustworthy eyes” followed on the same page by “those large, trustworthy eyes.”

Worse, the Doctor returns Bryony’s admiration, stating how impressed he is with her as he is rescued by her, relying on her to save the day, commenting that “It was incredibly prescient of me to have met you, a sign of true genius,” shortly before comparing the significance of their meeting to his relationship with the TARDIS.

Drosten2Bryony complains that she is talked down to by men, yet that is exactly what Kennedy does with her childish sentences; “life was dusty and hot and dull, dull, dull,” “soon after that Patterson would be gone, gone, gone,” “from that long, long, long way away he could hear,” the question of “octopuses or octopodes” posed four times in four pages.

Worse is the unfathomably misjudged interpretation of the Doctor, constantly interjecting “in case anyone had forgotten he was a genius,” no, excuse me, “a bold and handsome time-travelling genius.” The only moment when the prose rings true is the first line of his introduction (“he grinned with rather more teeth than one person should have; he appeared to have been dressed by a committee, possibly a drunk committee”) which Kennedy ruins with a further page of superfluous prose.

With the date falling between the broadcast of The Invasion of Time where Leela and K-9 remained on Gallifrey and The Ribos Operation where Romana joined the Doctor to search for the Key to Time at which point the Doctor was travelling solo, the “alternative” wooden panelled console room remains one of the few pleasing points of the book, if inconsistent with the timeline as it had been retired at the end of the previous season.

Is The Drosten’s Curse the worst Doctor Who book ever published? With the vast amount of episode novelisations and spin-off novels published through the reign of the series, it is perhaps unlikely, though of the high profile “celebrity” writers who have stepped through the doors of the TARDIS into the franchise, Michael Moorcock, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, it is certainly well ahead in the running down corridors.

The Drosten’s Curse is available now from BBC Books; don’t say we didn’t warn you

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