A review of the novella by Tara Samms
From the back (or blurb or whatever): On a blasted world, the Doctor and Susan find themselves in the middle of a war they cannot understand. With Susan missing and the Doctor captured, who will save the people from the enemies both outside and within?
Opening Line: “I like to stare into the sun.”
I’m fairly certain that it is unrelated, but twenty minutes after finishing this book I was coughing up blood. This probably had more to do with allergies than the quality of the story, but it still seems oddly fitting given some of the gore in the book.
Tara Samms is a nom de plume for Stephen Cole, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t know that going in to the novel. I have yet to read any Doctor Who stories by Cole that I would classify as compelling. For the first twenty-five pages or so, I genuinely thought this was going to be a fun story. By page fifty, it became a drudgery as I realized the characters were not going to do anything interesting or be at all memorable. Sure, they were all given motivations, but they pursued them with as much enthusiasm as some of my lazy co-workers.
Frayed is a pre-Unearthly Child-base-under siege-soporific masquerading as a novella. The story takes place on the planet Iwa where a human-run base called The Forge is being assailed by foxes. Naturally, these are not ordinary foxes; they are aliens that seem to fall to pieces every few minutes. Their siege is rather inconsistent as a result. Regardless, their attacks are quite brutal when they do manage to pull them off. As near as I can tell, the foxes are symbolic of what humanity will eventually become should they not cease genetic manipulation. Yes, The Forge is a base for the potential criminal. Those who are deemed to have the correct genetic template are tossed in The Forge and experiments are conducted on them for good measure. And did I mention that the prisoners are telepathic children? Nothing like dumping a bunch of ingredients in the pot and seeing what congeals. And this is one of my problems with the concepts in this novella: there are too many for the allotted space. There is not enough room for any one of the ideas to breathe and grow into a compelling plot with some meaty moralizing.
Given the number of ideas here, combined with the Doctor Who formula of needing a mystery to slowly reveal, something has to give, and Cole has chosen the characters. We have the base leader who has become a coward, the love-struck one, the insurrectionist, the lustful base chef, and a handful of characters that never even attempted to reach the heights of the aforementioned ones. The best a reader can hope for in keeping the characters straight is to read the book in a single setting. Otherwise, they will bleed into an unmemorable mass.
The Doctor and Susan are adequate. Some reviews I’ve encountered say the duo are portrayed excellently, but I disagree. Sometimes I can hear William Hartnell in The Doctor’s dialogue, but most times I can’t. At best, I would say the leads are inconsistent. Given that this story takes place before we officially meet The Doctor and Susan, perhaps a bit of grace is in order. Cole does float the idea that The Doctor and Susan acquire their names in this adventure, an idea that I hope sinks and is forgotten.
Successful dialogue: ‘You’re a romantic, my dear.’ He squeezed her hand. ‘Mostly these humans are thoughtless and savage, with outmoded ideas about practically everything.’ He chortled. ‘Yet, they may merit further study. I marvel that they have survived as a species to reach into space.’
‘Because they dream,’ she said.
Final Verdict: If you are a fan of Stephen Cole, I’m sure you will like this one. Otherwise, this is a book only for the completist. At the current price of $20, I think it a good one to skip.