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Reading Through Your Doctor Who Slump

The series finale of Doctor Who has just happened and any staunch Whovians in your teen section are probably seeking a way to fill the gaping hole in their lives (until they finally get to see the Christmas Special!) Soon they’ll be checking out DVDs or heading to Netflix to watch old episodes in the series, hoping to pass the time until “The Husbands of River Song.”

To help make the wait until the Christmas Special more bearable, here are a few book recommendations that can ease the transition from Doctor Who back to the rest of the world.

Warning…

“Voyage of the Damned”  and These Broken Stars

The 2007 Christmas Special “Voyage of the Damned” might more readily be remembered as the episode with the Titanic in space. Rich aliens from across the universe pay hugely for a chance to vacation on a replica of the old earth-timey ship and to occasionally pop down to the planet for a little shopping.  With a name like “Titanic” written on the side of their spaceliner, it’s easy to predict that their luxurious excursion won’t have a happy ending.

these broken stars

Fans of “Voyage of the Damned” will feel right at home in the opening chapters of These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. As this romantic adventure begins, our two heroes Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux meet upon a similarly ill-fated luxury spaceliner, the Icarus. In the catastrophic events that follow, Tarver and Lilac are forced to work together in order to survive in the strange and troubling landscape of an abandoned planet. Both “Voyage” and These Broken Stars also include a megalomaniacal man who is willing to do almost anything to have his way, and cares very little about who he harms in the process.

 

“The Waters of Mars” and The Martian

“The Waters of Mars” (2009 Special) tells the tragic tale of the first human settlement on Mars. What compelled the crew to blow up their own base, and all the people on it, is one of the great mysteries of the Universe. But when the Doctor inadvertently drops in for a visit on the very day that the settlement is destined to end, he soon finds himself embroiled in a frantic struggle to survive and questioning which lines he’s willing to cross to get his way.

the martian

While The Martian by Andy Weir doesn’t exactly follow the same plot lines, it has a few great connections to “The Waters of Mars.” Both stories are, of course, about exploring Mars and taking the first exciting steps towards sending human beings out into the universe.  Both also deal with the unexpected problems that can lead to life-or-death situations for astronauts struggling to survive far from home.  The Martian does a fantastic job of bringing a realistic story and hard science to the long-standing science-fiction dream of living on another planet.

Another strong parallel can be drawn to the great H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds. In both examples an invading alien force (humans in “The Waters of Mars”, and Martians invading Earth in War of the Worlds,) is ultimately defeated by microorganisms against which they have no defense.

 

“A Christmas Carol” and Afterworlds

This 2010 Christmas Special is loosely based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale of the same name.  In this version the Doctor stands in as the ghost of Christmas past, present and yet to be as he tries to convince Kazran Sardick to find his heart and embrace his fellow beings. Unlike the ghosts about whom Charles Dickens wrote the Doctor is able to use his special skills to help Sardick to actually change the past rather than simply revisiting where he went wrong.

afterworldsA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens would naturally be a good choice to pair with this episode, especially for a teen who hasn’t ever encountered the original story. However,  Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld has a really interesting connection to A Christmas Carol”: in this book, as in the special, the audience is actually able to experience the past being changed.  Afterworlds tells two intertwined stories through alternating chapters. On one side we meet a young author named Darcy Patel who is enjoying the incredible experience of selling her first book. As she pursues her dream life as an author in the big city Darcy also works on editing and revising her novel.

In the alternate chapters we read the very book Darcy is rewriting . The cool thing is that while we’re reading about Darcy’s life and the work she’s doing on her book, the changes she’s considering may be on a section of her book that we’ve already read. So, for example, while Darcy’s contemplating changes to the opening chapter, we can already reflect back on the finished version we’ve read to see how those changes panned out.

“The Girl in the Fireplace” and Rook

In “The Girl in the Fireplace” (series 2, episode 4) the life of Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV of France, is juxtaposed with the happenings on an abandoned spaceship in the 51st century. Madame de Pompadour and the spaceship are mysteriously connected despite their wildely different time periods. It’s a mystery the Doctor finds impossible to resist as he searches for a connection and fights off the sinister clockwork automatons that are stalking her.

rookRook, by Sharon Cameron shares a similar mashup of old and new in an intriguing adventure that builds on the famous Santayana quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Rook is set in a far future in which most of technology has failed and huge portions of human history have been lost. Sophia Bellemy masquerades as the Rook in order to sneak into the city that was once Paris and free victims of a bloody revolution who are soon to be guillotined. It’s an exciting read full of secret identities, betrayals, and complicated plots.

 

“Bad Wolf” and Seven Second Delay

In this penultimate episode in series 1 of the new Doctor Who the Doctor and his companions, Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness, find themselves trapped inside reality TV shows that have been taken to the extreme. No longer content with simply eliminating unpopular characters each episode, reality shows have upped the danger level by actually executing the departing contestants. Contestants are now forced to participate and are selected by random draft. The horror at being selected as a participant doesn’t seem to stop anyone from watching the shows, however.

Seven second

The idea of characters being drafted into a lethal reality show and then forced to compete against one another to survive may sound familiar (The Hunger Games, perhaps?) Seven Second Delay by Tom Easton, however, also has a lot of interesting connections to “Bad Wolf.” Like most good episodes of Doctor Who it includes a lot of running and a mad dash to escape an enemy who seems to have all the advantages. In Seven Second Delay Mila flees from a government that has practically eliminated privacy with the blessing of a populace that can’t be bothered to care. Her only advantage is a 7 second delay in the live-feed that they use to monitor her. But Mila’s escape is made even more difficult when the general populace begins watching her feed and rooting against her.

More reads on the darker side of reality television include A.S. King’s Reality Boy and Heather Demetrios’ Something Real.

“Day of the Moon” and The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon

In “The Day of the Moon” (series 6, episode 2) the Doctor takes on a truly terrifying new adversary: aliens who seem to call themselves “The Silence” and who have been secretly manipulating human beings for thousands of years. Not only do they have the ability to electrocute people with a gesture, they are also instantly forgotten the moment they leave your field of vision. How can you plan an attack against something you can’t even remember exists? Luckly the Doctor has a plan and, if you’ve seen the episode, it involves Apollo 11, and more specifically, Neil Armstrong’s left foot.

the man who wentWatching this episode always makes me want to learn more about Apollo 11 and the space race. There are a wide variety of non-fiction books out there that can feed this interest, but I’ll mention just a few of them. First is Bea Uusma Schyffert’s The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins. This peek into the life of Michael Collins is perfect for younger readers who are looking for a friendly and enticing introduction to subject. His story is told through diagrams, photographs, and interesting tidbits about space and the experience of being an astronaut. It can definitely be enjoyed by older readers, but for those who would like a much more in-depth take on the subject the authorized biography on Neil Armstrong, First Man: the life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen or Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh are a couple more great options.

Happy watching and happy reading!

— Miriam Wallen, currently reading The Rig by Joe Ducie