Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole

The Doctor, Ben and Polly arrive in a hollowed-out planetoid, where a team of elite soldiers on a training mission find the corpses of ten alien terrorists.

The First Doctor era is represented by Stephen Cole’s novel, Ten Little Aliens. It’s a very modern take on a Hartnell story. The soldiers here are clearly straight out of the Alien series of movies, with a liberal dose of Starship Troopers thrown for added hoo-rah. This is late First Doctor-era, and he is accompanied by Ben and Polly. There are strong hints that he is very close to his first regeneration, which is foreshadowed in a story with strong themes of change, renewal and indeed bodily transformation. Like all the characters in the book, the events take a physical and mental toll on the Doctor that could hasten this incarnation’s exit.

It’s hard to imagine any of straight-laced crews we are normally accustomed to meeting in this era of Doctor Who, manning the Snowcap Bases or the Ark, behaving like this bunch of maladjusted, horny trainee elite space soldiers.

Much like some 1970s Who would take swipes at British colonialism, there’s an element of that here. Earth is taxing her off-road colonies heavily and using the inhabitants to fight wars of expansion.

Despite the large number of characters, they are well-drawn enough to be distinct and memorable. The method for introducing them is great – a character named Shade gets an update about who will be on the training squad with him, written a nice colloquial style reminiscent of those voice-over updates during the training scenes from Top Gun, or all those ‘do you want to know more?’ interludes from Starship Troopers.

The First Doctor and Ben are faithful to the TV originals, and they integrate into the group very well, considering how far removed from any TV episodes this adventure is. Polly is perhaps not as confident as she was in her best stories. In particular in The Highlanders, she is far more capable, flirtatious, resourceful and manipulative than presented here.

The greatest, most memorable element of Ten Little Aliens is the use of the ‘websets’ the characters wear. These are headsets that record a person’s experiences, memories and thoughts for review later. Cole masterfully uses this to great effect in chapter fourteen, when they are adapted for live sharing, like an advanced, intrusive internet chat room. The chapter then split into different characters’ viewpoints, and you pick and choose whose version of events you want to read, a little like a choose-your-own-adventure. This ensures that no two reading experiences will match. The author cleverly ensures that you can’t miss a couple of key events, then you can leave this chapter any time. It’s also pretty prescient in the eleven years since this book was originally published, we’ve perhaps become more used to the internet eroding the notion of individual privacy. Its easy to imagine something like the webset becoming eagerly adopted by a public mindlessly sharing their every waking experience.

Newer fans would be forgiven for thinking the Weeping Angels were putting in an appearance from the early descriptions of some elements here. But this was written long before they were so much as a twinkle in Stephen Moffat’s eye, and Cole is simply using the creepiness inherent in statues to good effect.

At the centre of the story are the eponymous ten little aliens, creating a compelling mystery that the Doctor must solve, proving his worth among the heavily armed elite troops. The title of the book takes its name from the rhyme ‘Ten Little Indians’, who disappear one by one, as do the apparent cadavers here. The Doctor’s intelligence and mental fortitude are at the fore, much as they were in Hartnell’s performance, while others handle the action.

Not read Ten Little Aliens? Buy it now from Amazon:

Doctor Who: Ten Little Aliens: 50th Anniversary Edition

On Kindle:

 Doctor Who: Ten Little Aliens: 50th Anniversary Edition