Review – Vampire Science – Jonathan Blum & Kate Orman
Vampire Science is the second instalment in the BBC series of novels, The Eighth Doctor Adventures, and continues the path of The Doctor and his companion Sam who were first introduced in The Eight Doctors.
In true Doctor Who style, there are already several adventures that the pair has embarked upon between the start of this book and where the last ended, that are only alluded to in the narrative. This presents a handy shortcut for Blum and Orman as authors to allow the protagonists to have built up more of an understanding than in the previous entry to series. Of course, The Doctor requires at least one confused bystander to impress in order to properly be The Doctor and in this book those roles are filled by Carolyn, a biochemist, Dr Shackle, a put-open Doctor (of the actual medical kind) and General Kramer of UNIT.
Each of the bystanders has a different level of knowledge of The Doctor, and therefore the alien universe. Carolyn is introduced by way of the prologue, meeting The Doctor and Sam in 1976. Her fleeting meeting creating a lifelong obsession with the paranormal. Dr Shackle is introduced during the narrative itself. Finally, being a member of UNIT, General Kramer has met The Doctor before. Although her knowledge seems limited to the Seventh Doctor, not the eighth.
Reference to the TV continuity is common in this series of books, an area in which many of the readers of this review will have a lot more knowledge than I do. I had to do some research post-reading to satisfy myself that she is not a pre-existing character. In fact, she has appeared only a fan-made film which starred author Jonathan Blum as The Doctor.
The band are faced with confronting a coven of marauding Vampires in San Francisco, in 1997, mentioned because in Doctor Who narratives you really do need to specify the date. It begins in the way of typical vampiric story, ticking all the boxes of the genre, mysterious unexplained killings with the victims completely drained of blood, a gothic nightclub, an abandoned theatre. However, Blum and Orman successfully subvert expectations on many an occasion, starting with The Doctor’s first confrontation with the leader of the Coven.
While there was, perhaps, only one outright twist in the book, it does successfully track the ups and downs, successes, losses and hair breadth escapes that encapsulate the nature of Doctor Who. In the interests of avoiding too many spoilers, I’ll not mention too many more plot details here but rather focus on the way that The Doctor and Sam are treated.
The interesting thing about reading a series such as this is that it’s multi-authored, and this can present a real challenge for character continuity. Indeed, the acknowledgements in the book itself expressly mentions “the other eighth-Doctor novelists” and “lots of e-mail trying to make sure the new Doctor and companion really sparkle together.”
Despite the correspondence, each book will have a subtly different take on The Doctor and Sam, developed through each author’s own narrative lens. Vampire Science featured a Doctor at odds with himself and a Sam in crisis.
One of the hallmarks of The Doctor, particularly in the darker tone of the 2005 TV reboot, is a relentless self-questioning. Constantly attempting to save everyone, no matter how unsaveable, and decrying the unintended consequences of his actions. Vampire Science continues this theme as The Doctor, elevated by his own actions, has to face mistakes and deaths that may have been preventable.
This take on The Doctor also presents some more inner confusion as to his own nature with Blum and Orman using the contrasting views that Kramer and Sam hold of the Doctor to highlight this. Does he always have a plan, or is he making it all up and hoping for the best? The answer, as always with The Doctor, seems to be somewhere in between. He has many plans, and he ends up hoping that at least one of them will work. At times the contrast of The Doctor’s actions from one scene to the next can feel a little clumsy, as if the authors have actually written it as two different characters rather than one character in a state of flux. He can’t be any easy character to write, but this isn’t always the most convincing attempt that I’ve read.
The author’s treatment of Sam is one of the highlights of this book for me, and at odds with how many companions are treated in the Doctor Who universe. Broadly, the civilians in any Doctor Who story fall into the categories of either excited, young person who can’t wait to leave it all behind and explore the universe or reluctant local who is awed by The Doctor but ultimately refuses to join him on his travels. In Vampire Science we get to see Sam realising just what it means to travel with The Doctor, her initial teenage enthusiasm is faced with brutality, pain and death.
The treatment of Sam’s doubts, her confusion, her anger at The Doctor, is expressed in a much more convincing manner than Blum and Orman manage with The Doctor himself. By the nature of the character, Sam is much easier to relate to than an thousand year old alien but I’m not sure that that was where the difference came. The authors just seemed to have a clearer vision for Sam’s journey in the book than they did for The Doctor. After all, The Doctor rarely changes (excluding regenerations) whereas a teenager whisked away to see a strange and terrifying universe for the first time would have to do a lot of changing in a very short time.
This is an excellent entry into the Doctor Who universe, and where my qualms with The Eight Doctors was that it served only as an introduction, Vampire Science suffered with none of those problems. It’s a well constructed story, with mostly convincing characters, that manages to satirise a traditional Vampire horror without becoming a parody itself.
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