We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! As most of my reviewing efforts have been going toward the audio dramas, I’ve been a bit neglectful toward the novels. While I can’t promise that I’ll be much improved in that regard, I do want to revisit the novel ranges as often as possible; and to that end, today we’re continuing the Eighth Doctor Adventuresnovel line with the second entry, July 1997’s Vampire Science! Written by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman, this novel features the Eight Doctor and Samantha “Sam” Jones, and picks up some time after the previous entry, The Eight Doctors. (Sam is seen early on thinking about the time she’s spent with the Doctor, indicating they have had some offscreen adventures.)
Full disclosure: I read this novel some months ago, and honestly, I thought I posted a review for it. I had since finished the next entry, The Bodysnatchers, and was getting ready to post about it, when I discovered I hadn’t posted about Vampire Science. This seems to be a trend for me, as I did the same thing with The Eight Doctors, apparently. I promise to do better on this—and with any luck, I’ll get a review for The Bodysnatchers posted this week as well. In the meantime, with Vampire Science having been a few months back, this review may seem a little mechanical; I’m pulling some of the things I’ll reference from the wiki and from other sites rather than from memory, as it’s a little fuzzy for me by now. With that said, let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
In 1976 San Francisco, med student Carolyn McConnell meets the Doctor and Sam Jones…in the middle of a vampire attack. The vampire, Eva, is killed in the struggle, via a stake to the heart. The Doctor leaves Carolyn a Time Lord hypercube to contact him if she encounters any more vampires. Twenty-one years later, in 1997, Carolyn—now a cancer researcher, and in a relationship with theatre lighting designer James Court—specializes in vampires as a hobby. She takes an interest in a series of murders that seem vampiric, which culminated with the death of a senator outside a Goth bar called The Other Place. Her extensive research puts her in contact with UNIT General Kramer, who takes her on temporarily as an unofficial advisor. Meanwhile James—not taking it seriously—offers to speak with the owner of The Other Place, after which he disappears. Carolyn activates the cube to summon the Doctor. He arrives with Sam in tow—for them it has only been a short time—and meets with Carolyn and Kramer to make plans. Sam, meanwhile, begins researching deaths by blood loss in the area, and meets an inner-city doctor named David Shackle. He tells her that over two hundred homeless people have died in that manner in the last six months, but no one else has noticed. He joins the Doctor, Sam, Kramer, and Carolyn on their trip to The Other Place. While the Doctor futilely tries to question the owner, David does some interviewing of his own, and is mugged; meanwhile Sam is attacked by a vampire on the dancefloor, and is bitten. She ends up in the hospital, where Kramer advises her to leave the Doctor while she still can. This makes her doubt the Doctor’s motives in exposing her to danger.
David talks with his friend Joanna Harris, who—unknown to him—is a vampire herself, and in fact is the leader of the local coven. Her answers leave him despairing that life has no meaning. Meanwhile the Doctor and Carolyn return to the club, where they meet a young and angry vampire named Slake; the Doctor tells Slake that he is a Time Lord, and he demands to see their leader. Slake arranges a meeting with Harris at the vacant Orpheum Theatre, where the vampires live. Kramer puts UNIT troops on standby around the theatre. Harris releases James as an act of good faith. The Doctor, as a Time Lord, is supposed to wipe out all vampires, but he instead seeks a peaceful resolution, and offers to help Harris create an artificial food source to substitute for blood. This fits with Harris’s own research lines, but she is unwilling to trust a Time Lord; therefore they engage in a bloodfasting ritual, which creates a psychic link between them, and also ensures that they each experience the other’s injuries or death. This enrages Kramer, but the Doctor explains that it is necessary, as the Time Lords—if they become aware of the vampires—will likely wipe out the city to exterminate them. Meanwhile, James leaves, unable to handle this new reality; this leaves Carolyn feeling betrayed, and she decides to take the Doctor up on his long-ago offer to travel with him. She uses the TARDIS’s lab to study the vampires’ blood and isolate the factor in it that makes them vampires; she also seeks the aforementioned artificial food source. Harris reveals her true nature to David, and offers to make him a vampire and recruit him to her cause. He goes to the Doctor for advice, but his depression is unrelieved. The Doctor orders Harris not to turn him, but he remains suicidal.
Slake is enraged by Harris’s efforts to end their hunting, believing this goes against their destiny as vampires. He leads the other young vampires to The Other Place to kill all the clubgoers, in an attempt to provoke a war with Harris and wrest control from her. Hearing of this, Harris and the Doctor hurry to the club with undercover UNIT agents, who evacuate the club while the Doctor confronts Slake. In the face of Harris and other elder vampires, Slake flees, though he plans to ambush Harris at her lab. There he finds David, and turns him into a vampire. From David he learns that the Doctor and Harris are now bloodfasted, and he decides that he only needs to kill one of them, as the other will also die. He sets his young vampires to destroying the other elder vampires, so as to leave Harris and the Doctor vulnerable. Meanwhile, Sam doesn’t understand why the Doctor is protecting the vampires; she thinks Harris has deceived him. She trails Harris to a warehouse with a second lab, and there she learns that Harris is keeping childlike, underdeveloped humans in cages. Harris attacks her. At the same time, the Doctor has found James in an eighth-story hotel room, and tries to convince him to return to Carolyn; when he senses Harris’s actions through the bloodfasting, he threatens to leap out the window if she doesn’t stop. Harris puts Sam in a cage instead; and to punish the Doctor, she goes out to kill a homeless man and consume his blood, just so the Doctor will experience it through the bond. This doesn’t dissuade the Doctor; and when Sam hears that he would do anything to save her, her faith in him is restored. Harris reveals that the humans are lab-grown clones, here to serve as an alternate food source, but the Doctor thinks this isn’t good enough, and insists on finding another solution.
One of the elder vampires, while dying, contacts Harris and warns her that Slake’s allies are killing them off. Harris has no choice but to fight back, and the Doctor joins her. Carolyn provides a weapon: a mixture of silver nitrate and taxol, which her research indicates will kill the vampires. As Sam and Harris mix the solution, the Doctor takes Carolyn and Kramer back to Carolyn’s home to plan. There they are attacked by the young vampires, and flee to James’s hotel room. They decide to set a trap at the now-vacant theatre; once there, they find that Slake has vampirized some squirrels as a trap of his own, and they must fight the creatures off. In the process, James saves Carolyn’s life. Meanwhile Slake’s group attacks the lab where Sam and Harris are working. Sam, who says she has never had to fight for her beliefs before, chooses to defend Harris, as Harris’s death would also kill the Doctor. She fights and kills the same vampire that previously bit her, using the silver solution as a weapon. However, she is captured by Slake, who tells the Doctor he has her as a hostage. They agree to meet at the Orpheum Theatre.
It is James’s lighting skills that set the trap here. With UNIT’s help, he sets up a lighting system which will imitate sunlight inside the theatre. It is not enough to kill the vampires, but it is enough to stall them. The Doctor gives himself up to the vampires, who feed on him—but they begin to die. The Doctor appears also to be dying, and asks Harris to turn him; but she realizes as she drinks his blood that he had drunk a vial of the vampire repellant, which is what killed the others. The traces left in his blood are enough to kill her as well; but the Doctor administers CPR and revives her. She learns that the repellant has destroyed the vampire factor in her blood, but the bloodfasting saved her life, rendering her human—and mortal.
Kramer offers Harris a consultant post with UNIT, as her biology skills and thousand years of life experience would be very useful. Carolyn abandons her plan to join the Doctor, and returns to James to renew their relationship. The Doctor and Sam depart in the TARDIS; but, unknown to anyone, David did not join the attack, and survived, alone in the theatre, pondering his future.
At last, some real action! While The Eight Doctors was by no means boring, it was also the equivalent of a “clip show” television episode, with the Doctor revisiting events of his past lives to restore his memory. Here, we get the first real action that is solely the province of the Eight Doctor (post-regeneration, of course). With Sam Jones in tow, the Doctor confronts a vampire coven in San Francisco. We see some early indication of the Eight Doctor’s tendency to throw himself into every situation even at great risk to himself; all Doctors do this, but it’s almost pathological with Eight, risking his own being in various ways. Here, we get to see him forge a psychic (and more!) link with a thousand-year-old vampire; and we get to see him allow several vampires to feed on him. That’s personal and intimate in a way that his other incarnations probably wouldn’t condone; for the Eight Doctor, it’s just Tuesday.
A common theme for Sam in these early stories—and possibly throughout her run, though it’s too early to say—is her internal conflict over the Doctor’s faith in her. We see this in regard to his willingness and/or unwillingness to put her in danger; and we’ll see it again in The Bodysnatchers, the next entry in the series. I’ve said before that I find Sam to be very similar to Lucie Miller, who will come later in both the Doctor’s timeline and in publication history; as a result, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Sam is just a high school student. She’s very young, and her struggles are very much a magnification of the confidence issues that most teenagers experience. In that sense, she’s very well written. Her issues aren’t resolve here, but she does temporarily get her faith in the Doctor restored. It’s worth pointing out that this is not her first outing with the Doctor; they’ve been traveling for at least a short while, with offscreen adventures. The Doctor isn’t fresh out of the gate anymore, either; Sam mentions at one point that he dropped her off at a Greenpeace rally for the day, and forgot about her for three years of his own timeline. (While not all has been confirmed, it’s been suggested that several of his adventures, including The Dying Days and his Radio Times comic adventures, occurred during that three-year period. For Sam, of course, it was only the afternoon.)
I have a love-hate relationship with supernatural stories in Doctor Who. Ordinarily I don’t think they work well, with the Doctor’s universe being highly slanted toward the scientific. I try to overlook it with most (but not all!) vampire stories, because A) they usually try hard to maintain a scientific footing, and B) they’re just so damned good! Mostly anyway; I’m looking at you, Vampires of Venice. This story would fit right in with the likes of Project: Twilight, had that story been written early enough. Despite having a fairly large cast of important characters, they’re all well-developed, all the way down to the elderly vampires who only appear for the sake of dying. It’s easy to pity the vampires here for the hell in which they live; and it’s easy to fear for the lives of the human characters, who always feel one step away from disaster. That level of tension often gets lost in the shuffle, and it’s good to see it executed so well here.
On the downside: This story feels very much like “TV Movie 2.0”. We return to the same San Francisco setting, just two years earlier; and Carolyn McConnell is very much a copy of Grace Holloway, from the personality and on-again-off-again live-in relationship, to the highly successful medical career. That’s not coincidental; the role was written with Grace in mind, but rights could not be sorted out in time (and in fact, the wiki states that “the first chapter of an early draft with Grace was published in the charity anthology Perfect Timing). Apparently, once again, there’s only room for one doctor in the TARDIS, as she eventually declines the Doctor’s offer to travel and chooses to stay behind. Meanwhile, inner-city doctor David Shackle stands in for Chang Lee; while he’s not a street kid like Chang, he has the same inner-city background and the same perspective on life and crime, with a side order of crippling depression. He, too, ends up allying with the enemies, but survives at the end, although perhaps not as hopefully as Chang. I’d love to see his character appear again, and certainly his survival was left as a thread to be pulled in later stories, but it appears that he never does.
As good as the story is, I found it difficult to get through it. That’s mostly due to my circumstances outside of the book; lately I’ve been finding it hard to complete any books at all. Still, the book itself is a dense read; it moves quickly, but there’s simply a lot happening here, with a lot of events to cover. It was a bit of a slog especially near the end, where I felt it should have been moving much faster than it did. Don’t let that discourage you, though; it’s a good read, and if you want to understand the character of Sam and her relationship with the Doctor, it’s required reading.
Continuity: While it isn’t as egregious as in The Eight Doctors, there’s still a lot of continuity here. The Doctor references his past as President of Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin, et al.). UNIT appears, though in its American branch; it local leader, Brigadier-General Adrienne Kramer, claims to have met the Seventh Doctor in an off-screen adventure in Washington, D.C. (Technically not off-screen, I should explain; it originates with a fan film called Time Rift, in which Jonathan Blum appeared as the Seventh Doctor.) The Doctor still carries Jelly Babies. While bloodfasted to the Doctor, the vampire leader catches glimpses of his memories of Metebelis III (Planet of the Spiders), Androzani (The Caves of Androzani), and Yemaya (Sleepy, Walking to Babylon). The TARDIS’s resident fledershrews (bats), Jasper and Stewart, are glimpsed (Doctor Who TV movie). The Great Vampires (State of Decay, The Pit, et al.) get a mention, of course. Carolyn’s hypercube is of the same type as the one seen in The War Games, and later in The Doctor’s Wife. The Eighth Doctor works with UNIT in The Dying Days, which also takes place in 1997 (and apparently, in the three-year gap I mentioned earlier); however, that novel features the UK branch, which is why Kramer has not yet met the Eighth Doctor. The Doctor describes himself with titles taken from Remembrance of the Daleks and Love and War. There’s a mention of his family, when a birthday card addressed to “Grandfather” is seen (An Unearthly Child, et al.; the card was previously seen in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible). Kramer mentions the Doctor’s occasional use of the phrase “Sleep is for tortoises” (The Talons of Weng-Chiang, et al.). The Doctor mentions a pharmacist on Lacaille 8760 (The Room with No Doors). A model train set in the TARDIS reappears the next year in a print Short Trips anthology, in a story titled Model Train Set, also by Jonathan Blum (I usually avoid references to future media, but this one is pretty obscure, and I may never get to that story). The Doctor refers to the planet Atraxi 3; it’s up for debate whether this is the origin of the Atraxi race seen in The Eleventh Hour. As well, it’s worth mentioning that this book is absolutely loaded with real-life pop culture references from the late 1990s, including nearly every other piece of vampire-related media on the market at that time.
Okay, maybe it IS as egregious as The Eight Doctors.
Overall: Finally, a proper beginning to the series! I understand fully the reasons behind The Eight Doctors; as the novel line was going to carry the torch of published Doctor Who, it needed to firmly root itself into the series continuity. I said in my review of that novel that it was fun read despite its problems; and for that, as well as the continuity bridge, I am grateful. Still, this is where things really get going, and what a ride it is. Bear with it if it seems hard to get through; you’ll appreciate it when it’s over, and it will set you up well for the books that lie ahead. (They do get quicker, I assure you.) Longtime fans can skip The Eight Doctors entirely if they like, and begin here; you won’t be disappointed with this one.
Next time, and hopefully very soon: The Bodysnatchers! Unfortunately not connected to the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers film, but hey, we can’t have it all. See you there!
The Eighth Doctor Adventures novels are currently out of print, but may be purchased from various used booksellers.