Review: A Big Hand for the Doctor by Eoin Colfer


So if you recall, the BBC had commissioned 11 British children’s lit authors to write 11 short stories based on — you guessed it — the 11 incarnations of The Doctor for the show’s 50th Anniversary this year.

For those of you who, like me, started with Christopher Eccleston (also known as The Best Doctor), the project probably won’t pique your interest until about September or so. But given the low price range for the stories (about $3.00), I decided to pre-order them and have them auto-delivered each month onto my Kindle just to give them a go anyway. I say pre-order on the Kindle as though I have another choice, since many fans are up in arms that these stories are only available as e-books. If it helps, I have a feeling that when they’re all done they’ll be bundled into book form, so in the meantime those among you who don’t have a Kindle will just have to read on your computer screens like the luddites you are, I guess.

So how was the first story, written by Artemis Fowl‘s Eoin Colfer?

Well… not the best.

To be honest, I’m not sure a short story was the best format for this. I read plenty of tie-in novels as a teenager (mostly Buffy), and will admit that 300 pages often over-boiled a story that traditionally would be told in about 50 minutes. So a novel is too long, but a short story is too short. This is where people ought to be breaking out the seldom-used novella: I think about 100-150 pages would have been ideal to capture the actual screen time you get for most episodes, develop the story, the action and the resolution without it feeling either over-boiled or rushed.

Because instead you get what Colfer offered up, which felt a little like a peek behind the curtain at what goes on with the Doctor between episodes packed into 41 meager pages. The basic premise is that the Doctor is hanging around Victorian London while an alien “parts” dealer is growing him a new hand to replace his recently-severed one. So that he doesn’t have to go completely without his missing appendage, the hand-mechanic offers him an extra-large replacement that the Doctor finds somewhat cumbersome — especially when suddenly his granddaughter has been captured by soul pirates who feed on the nightmares of kids or something.

Colfer packs the story with modern references, both to Harry Potter and Matt Smith’s turn as the Doctor, which frankly reek of an attempt to make sure that kids down tune out just because they may not be personally acquainted with William Hartnell.

According to the Who purists on Goodreads, Colfer got Hartnell all wrong and made him into some kind of Smith/Tennant hybrid in an old body instead. Now I don’t know Hartnell, but I do know Tennant and Smith and don’t particularly agree with this. Whoever Colfer’s Doctor is, he’s certainly grumpier than either Tennant’s James Bond-ish Doctor or Smith’s Wonka incarnation.

My main issue is instead with the pacing. So much time is devoted to the Doctor’s new hand that we get the climax of the soul pirates dumped on our lap out of nowhere, quickly resolved, and then it has a bit of a kitsch ending. The point is… nothing much happens, and what does happen isn’t particularly interesting or entertaining.

So not the best introduction to the short story series. Not that we can re-write time at this point, but this short story project strikes me as poorly-planned. Perhaps if the stories each dove-tailed into each other, or had a common foe or some kind of unifying factor they would work as a collection and would add up to a greater story, but instead it seems they just commissioned a group of popular authors to write some stuff whenever they had the time, and the result is a bit sloppy.

But we’ll see. As long as they don’t mess up Eccleston, I’ll be happy in the long run.

One thought on “Review: A Big Hand for the Doctor by Eoin Colfer

  1. Pingback: Review: The Nameless City by Michael Scott | Tea Leaves and Dog Ears

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