Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

November Books 9) Wolfsbane, by Jacqueline Rayner

A Past Doctor Adventure with Harry and Sarah, which I picked up after last week's post prompted a reaction on Twitter from Jacqueline Rayner saying
"Did I really kill off Harry? I'm sure it wasn't proper killing off if I did, I love him too much."
To which Ian Potter responded rather telegraphically,
"Harry deaths possible branching future outcomes as I recall."
Jacqueline Rayner concluded the discussion:
"Oh yes, that sounds right. He definitely didn't really die then, phew. Thanks for remembering my books for me, Ian."
I was sufficiently intrigued to say that I was now bumping the book up my reading list, upon which loveandgarbage tweeted to me:
Intrigued what you make of Wolfsbane. I found it problematic - plugging into certain imagery to seek an emotional weight it lacked.
Well, despite all that preparation I found it a slightly perplexing read for continuity reasons: we have a situation where Harry leaves the Tardis somewhat accidentally one day in late 1936, and the Doctor and Sarah return two weeks later to find his tombstone and strange tales of werewolves. Meanwhile Harry, two weeks earlier, had met another Doctor, who I identified fairly confidently as Eight, but who seems unaware of Skaro, which I found odd (it turns out that the book is set in one of the periods of amnesia that various writers have seen fit to inflict on the Eighth Doctor, but of course this is not explained); and while I thought at first that Harry and Sarah were in the standard timeline between Revenge of the Cybermen and Terror of the Zygons, bolstered by the book's back cover which specified the Fourth Doctor and by an early reference to "That height, that hair, that grin, that ridiculous long scarf", I was then completely thrown by a later statement that the other Doctor in the story "wasn't a tall white-haired man, like Miss Smith's friend" which made me wonder if I had misread the earlier line and this was some alternate timeline (a la loveandgarbage) in which the third regeneration had not happened. On reflection this must be a simple mistake, but it is a very serious one, and distracted me from the rest of the book.

So, werewolves. I've actually read/watched/heard all of the other werewolf stories of Who (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Tooth and Claw on TV, Kursaal from the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the early but very good Big Finish Five/Turlough audio Loups-Garoux) and rather surprisingly they do generally work as a Who concept. Here, Rayner combines it with Arthurian legend and the rise of Fascism in Germany, and some fairly explicit magic (there is a seductive dryad who has no sfnal justification), and unlike loveandgarbage I thought that the imagery did bear the weight of the story. (I felt however that it flagged a bit in the third quarter, but picked up again before the slightly confusing last couple of pages.)

But it is not the werewolves or even the confusing Doctors that matter: the author in her tweets a week ago made it clear that the book was really meant to be about Harry, and it is an excellent tribute to the character who lifted pretty much every scene he was in, and who got a rather poor send-off in The Android Invasion for his pains. She draws very much not just on the slightly twittish but courageous character we saw on screen, but also on the Harry developed by Ian Marter (who better?) in his novel Harry Sullivan's War, somewhat nervous about women, but happy to get stuck in to defend the good guys whether or not he really knows what is going on. If you always wanted to see a story that put Harry front and centre, this is it. Any other Who fan will enjoy it despite the minor flaws mentioned above.
Tags: bookblog 2010, doctor who, doctor who: 04, writer: jacqueline rayner

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