Who is Martin Day anyway? I had read nothing either complimentary or condemnatory about Wooden Heart, a novel for the Tenth Doctor and Martha (and I still don’t know what the title means). Even so, having had so much fun with the last Doctor Who books I’d been reading, I found this one a bit disappointing. Part of it is, in my opinion, he failed to really capture the persona of either the Doctor or Martha, as has been done so well before (Martha really well in The Pirate Loop, both of them in Sting of the Zygons). The sci fi story ideas are fine enough in themselves, quite imaginative in some ways, but as a Doctor Who novel specifically I’m not sure it all came together. None of the secondary characters ever quite captured my imagination, and with descriptions of adversaries as “dark angels,” I felt parts of it were a bit difficult to visualize.
The Doctor and Martha step off the TARDIS into a macabre living tomb (shades of Serenity)—that’s how Day plays this, very macabre. So what if the disappearing children are not killed but rather spirited away into the night—the “monsters” that inhabit the forest that the Doctor and Martha stumble into (while still on the ship) give off the creepiness vibe of The Village. As long as they are at the edge of vision, they remain horribly frightening. When Day describes them fully, however, the prose becomes unwieldy. We are told how terrified Martha is to get away, but I never feel like she is. When you figure out the distillation going on the monsters make sense, but somehow I think the Gothic fails to work with over-analysis. Was he going for Hinchcliffe? I’m not really sure what he was going for. Stuck in the middle of this is a chapter on murderer Ben Abbas, which I found really distracting, especially since it seems to be drawing parallels with Princess Diana.
However, there are some fun moments in this book. There’s something funny and shocking about the Doctor getting his leg stuck in some kind of metal trap. ‘Doesn’t half hurt,’ he added. ‘Do you precipitate this chaos, or are you merely drawn to it?’ ‘I do wonder sometimes,’ said the Doctor. Experiencing the whole lifetime of a village, where apparently generations have existed, winds its way, in my mind at least, to that Star Trek:TNG episode. Martha is courageous, compassionate, all the qualities we’ve come to associate with her—When you’re presented with suffering, she thought to herself, you react to it on a human level—with sympathy. You’d be something less than human if you didn’t—and yet I hardly feel I know her. She’s gone to Ibiza and lost her passport in a bar, apparently, and doesn’t feel up to performing pathologies. But where’s Martha? I feel him grasping for the effortless banter between the Doctor and Martha at their best, like when Martha tries to impress him by knowing the myths behind Castor and Pollux, and when the Doctor retorts with gobbledygook from the realms of the absurd. I do wonder if Martin Day feels a bit ripped off by “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead.” That plot and his do share certain similarities, but then I suppose it’s a science fiction archetype—after all, just watching “Carnival of Monsters,” it shares certain things in common with that story too.
I will grant you, about halfway through I was very excited to keep reading as I really wanted to know what the connection between the forest and the ship was. In the book’s defense, as I say, parts of the plot are quite interesting and creative, but I can’t say very much without spoiling the entire thing for you. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.