One of the perks of the trip that I took last week was the large amount of time I spent on some mode of transportation (at least a good 24 hours on bus, train, and ferry), giving me the opportunity to read books and listen to audios that I normally don’t have. I listened to The Light at the End again, and it was as good as the first time: I highly recommend it, especially if it’s your first audio experience. I also read Doctor Who: The Story of Martha, and here’s what I thought about it.
Spoilers ahead. Only minor ones, but still. Well, big spoilers if you haven’t seen “The Sound of Drums”/”The Last of the Time Lords.”
The novel covers Martha’s journey during the Year That Never Was, when she traveled the earth to spread word of the Doctor so that he could gather enough psychic energy to defeat the Master. It starts immediately after her teleport from the Valiant and covers not only everything she did while being hunted by the Master’s soldiers, but also the stories that she told about the Doctor. The basic structure of the novel is a chapter or two about what situation she’s gotten herself into now, with some reason why she’s telling someone a story, then a chapter of the story itself. A few of the chapters are about the soldiers who are hunting her down, especially the leader of the group, a man named Griffin.
I think the best word to describe this novel is “disappointing.” As an adventure novel, it wasn’t bad, but as a story of how Martha managed to get the entire world to work together for one important moment, it was woefully inadequate. In my mind, to get people to continue hoping for the future and support the Doctor, she needed to share stories that either painted the Doctor as the savior of the world, the one person who could fight the Master and who needed everyone’s help to do so, or directly inspired people to go on fighting even when everything seemed lost. Unfortunately, the stories she told to her audiences were just adventures she had shared with the Doctor – nothing particularly special. Yes, the Doctor saved the day in each of the stories, but he wasn’t any more heroic than usual. The stories from “Smith and Jones” (how he sacrificed himself to get the plasmavore captured) and “Gridlock” (how he saved the entire undercity) would have been more inspirational. Of course, they wouldn’t be appropriate for the novel since the reader is expecting new stories, not old ones, but there could easily have been a scene where Martha tells her audience about them in a “once, he saved us like this” style. (A scene like this also ties the book directly into the TV series for the reader.)
The other disappointing thing about the novel was the way Griffin’s story ended. He was created as completely mercenary, willing to hunt Martha down for the Master just so that he could rise in the ranks of the army and not caring about how the humans and the earth were being destroyed, and a lot of the story was devoted to the different things he did to try to find her and the tricks the resistance had pull to get Martha out. I had hoped either for Griffin to be redeemed and come to aid Martha at the end, or have her finally outwit and defeat him, with some kind of “the Doctor taught me violence is never the answer” speech, but neither happened, and his conclusion was completely unfulfilling. I get the distinct impression that the author was given some kind of limit, maybe 50,000 words, and he ended up having to cut out or abridge a lot of what he wanted to do.
In conclusion, if you want to read a few of the Doctor’s adventures, this is an adequate novel. If you want a good story about how Martha inspired the entire world to follow the Doctor, you’ll need to look elsewhere; I bet there are a few fanfiction treatments of this concept.