The Death Pit by A.L. Kennedy

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The Doctor checks into the Fetch Brothers Golf Spa Hotel in Arbroath, having been aiming for Chicago. He quickly discovers there’s something nasty lurking in the bunker on the thirteenth hole.

After the success of the fiftieth anniversary Doctor Who ebooks which Puffin published monthly throughout 2013, the BBC have picked up the gauntlet with their new Time Trips series. The first of these is Death Pit, an adventure for the Fourth Doctor. This first BBC one is about three times longer than most of the Puffin predecessors. They also feel more authentic. The Puffin stories sometimes bore only scant resemblance to the eras they represented (the First Doctor was a gung-ho action hero with a powerful prosthetic fist; and the Fourth Doctor scoffed at the idea of ever wearing a bow ties, despite having done so in his previous two incarnations).

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The Doctor here is travelling alone, and it’s strongly implied that’s it’s before he met K9. So that places this story either after The Deadly Assassin, or during his mysterious travels mid-Robot referred to in The Face of Evil. Companion-less, we are privy to the Doctor’s thoughts, and the witty tone is very reminiscent of the great Douglas Adams.

What this story reminds me of most is a BBC sitcom. The set-up is akin to Fourth Doctor-contemporary Fawlty Towers or more recently The Office. There’s a character like Polly or Tim, called Bryony Mailer, a graduate who finds herself working at the golf club and hotel. She’s surrounded by a cast of odd colleagues and guests, all short-sighted and motivated by their own petty or venal desires. All are well-drawn and Kennedy captures the character foibles that make them all memorable. It’s a great setting for a Doctor Who story, because when odd things start happening it, the characters don’t necessarily realise it’s extra-terrestrial at first, because everyone is acting so strangely.

While it doesn’t feel like a typical story for the era, it fits established continuity and feels reassuringly BBC. One of the characters is even called David Agnew (the standard pseudonym for script editors who substantially rewrote the work of others at the Beeb), credited with writing The Invasion of Time and City of Death. It’s a neat joke that a character named for someone who doesn’t exist is a solipsist. With the location being called Fetch, it immediately calls to mind Fetch Priory from The Image of Fendahl. With names having significance in that story (Fendelman), I read on looking for other clues that the Fendahl were back, but the threat here is an original creation.

The story rather oddly, but boldly, doesn’t end with the removal of the threat from the eponymous death pit. Having set up various clues about what else is going on at Fetch, the reader is left to finish the adventure in their own imaginations.

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Order Death Pit by A.L. Kennedy from Amazon:

Doctor Who: The Death Pit (Time Trips)

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