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Four stories from the Doctor’s long defence of Christmas…
Over the years, much has been made of the way the Doctor felt when he was exiled to Earth at the start of his third incarnation – yet that was a comparative beat of a butterfly’s wings compared with the time which he spends on Trenzalore during The Time of the Doctor. That fact is picked up to a small extent during these stories – most notably in Mark Morris’ final tale, which is set very late in the Time Lord’s self-imposed exile, when his hair is a wispy white – but overall the Doctor’s perspective is rather limited to his exasperation or pleasure at dealing with yet another problem.
Malcolm Hulke famously pointed out the problems with the Third Doctor set-up, and it’s a problem that applies even more so here – basically, the aliens have to travel to the Doctor. They have to think of a clever way through the boundaries set up by the Papal Mainframe, and work out a way to do their dastardly deeds without breaking the rules. In this collection we’ve got (in alphabetical order), Autons, Ice Warriors, Krynoids and Mara, some of whom are working on their own behalf, others of whom are being used. The authors all jump through the necessary hoops to get their respective aliens on to the surface of Trenzalore, and bring them in contact with the Doctor – normally via the inhabitants of Christmas, or its outlying areas, who see them and report back – and then devise a way for the Doctor to defeat them.
The writers are helped in this by the comparative freedom granted by the televised episode – the framework of life on Trenzalore is depicted in broad strokes, which allows them to fill in a great deal of the geography and society of the planet. There are a few links between the stories but they’re basically stand-alone – you probably could work out exactly where in the episode they fit, if you chose, but it doesn’t really matter.
All four writers understand the Time Lord’s outlook, and put it across well – Morris probably encapsulating the frustration and subdued anger best. Each invasion scenario is tailored to the monster involved (with suitable additions for those which haven’t yet been seen in the 21st century series) but unfortunately there’s an inevitable similarity between all the stories. It’s a great idea to set stories during this time – as I said in the review of The Time of the Doctor, the concept itself is really strong – but I’d hoped for more temptation of the Time Lord, perhaps, or ways in which the situation could be circumvented.
Verdict: Perhaps better suited to be read as single stories than a collection, these tales help to fill in the considerable gaps in the 11th (or is it 13th) Doctor’s long life. 7/10