originally written 05/04/2010
It’s wrong to call this a paint-by-numbers Doctor Who book; it’s got all the elements of a good story, it’s well-written, it has an interesting setting and uses the Sontarans and the Rutans to the fullest of their possibilities as villains/monsters. It was written very much in the framework of a TV series two-parter. It didn’t really suffer at all from the lack of a regular companion. It was simply . . . a bit dull.
Chelsea 426 is an off-world colony for humans who believe that Earth itself has gotten too cosmopolitan. The people who choose to live there want a life similar to that of twentieth century Chelsea: twee, regulated, calm. They are very much the inhabitants of River City in The Music Man before the action in that story takes place. The easy comparison is to those in Britain who want “England for the English.” Some of the characters in The Taking of Chelsea 426 show an appalling xenophobia, and the fact that it continues to hamper the Doctor without him taking any real action against it is somewhat unnerving. It feels like he’s the Third Doctor in “Inferno,” running around trying to convince people to go along with him while he comes up against pig-headed resistance over and over.
I didn’t realize until halfway through the book that there isn’t the customary young female companion that many of the books in this Tenth Doctor on his own range of book have relied upon. Rather like the First Doctor and his grandchildren à la the early comics, the Doctor’s companions in Chelsea 426 are Jake and Vienna Carstairs, a pair of tween twins, smart, talented, and good to have in a crisis. They are also slightly skeptical of the Doctor and somewhat desperate to escape the death-by-quiet in Chelsea 426.
The Rutans’ scheme reminded me of the plot to “The Gift” in The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Sontarans presented here are a bit more fleshed out than we have ever seen them before: General Kade is tough but fair (well, as fair as Sontarans can be), which is why Chelsea 426 doesn’t turn into a bloodbath. He commands the Fourth Sontaran Intelligence Division, which has been created to counter-attack the Rutans’ battle strategies. The Sontarans’ dialogue doesn’t seem to be quite right, in my opinion; calling everyone “sir,” even the useless Mayor of Chelsea 426, doesn’t seem a privilege they would afford to weaklings.
Likewise, although the Tenth Doctor has some general Tennant-y-ness, I didn’t get an overwhelming sense of his character. It wasn’t necessarily that any other Doctor could have filled the role, as the sprinklings of “molto bene!” showed David Llewellyn could hear the Tenth Doctor’s voice as he was writing. Perhaps there was a sense of shell shock in this version of the Tenth Doctor, as despite the brave façade he was putting on, he didn’t seem his mad, dashing self.
The writing was clever and more than satisfactory for the well-paced adventure story, but no characters besides the Carstairs (and possibly General Kade) were allowed to develop much. It was an enjoyable diversion.